Who Is the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been going around the world as well as regularly appearing on American television telling everyone who might be inclined to listen that "The [Iranian] president was replaced but the goal of the regime remains obtaining nuclear weapons to threaten Israel, the Middle East and the safety of the world." He has repeatedly described Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani as a "wolf in sheep’s clothing." The phrase originated in the New Testament and is attributed to Jesus, which likely makes Netanyahu cringe if he is aware of its provenance, but he is using the expression so often that he really should seek to copyright it. The phrase is meant to suggest that Rouhani is pretending to be a moderate interested in negotiations over issues dividing his country from the western powers when all he really is doing is buying time for Tehran to further advance its nuclear weapons program.

It is presumably a tactic that Netanyahu is quite familiar with as it is precisely what Israel has been doing relating to its ever expanding West Bank settlements. Peace talks began yesterday, shortly after Israel rendered them irrelevant by announcing the building of 2100 new homes in eleven different locations, some in Arab East Jerusalem and also deep in the West Bank. Nearly everyone who is not a complete apologist for Israel agrees that the settlements are the number one obstacle to any peace agreement with the Palestinians. Netanyahu has no desire to halt the process whereby the West Bank is being subsumed into Greater Israel, but he is willing to enter into negotiations to serve as a distraction while enabling the expansion on Arab land to continue.

The regular denigration and demonization of Iran is all part of the process. If Israel can succeed in portraying itself as a potential victim and under threat from a devious and suicidal neighbor, what is happening to the Palestinians remains largely unnoticed and unremarked upon, particularly in the US mainstream media. Last Friday there appeared a propaganda piece precisely along those lines, a featured op-ed in The New York Times which was extraordinary, even breathtaking, in its depiction of an Iran that is poised to obtain a nuclear weapon by hook or by crook. The piece was entitled "Iran’s Plan B for the Bomb." Written by? The Times byline says "Amos Yadlin, a former chief of Israel military intelligence, is the director of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, where Avner Golov is a researcher."

Yes indeed, the authors are two Israelis intimately tied to the country’s security apparatus. They are both formerly and currently being paid by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and have a personal interest in convincing a perhaps skeptical American public that Iran poses a serious threat. Yadlin and Avner describe Iran’s proposal for negotiations as "dangerous" because "What matters is not the talks but the outcome." I for one am not sure what that is supposed to mean, but to summarize their argument, they claim that Iran’s desire to enrich some fuel to a 20% level (weapons grade is 90%) is a ruse because stockpiled uranium at that concentration can quickly be turned into weapons grade. They refer to this as a "breakout capability," and they estimate that Iran’s growing stockpile of enriched uranium will enable it to produce a bomb in one month by the end of this year and by the end of 2014 the breakout time will be less than two weeks. They also note that Iran "appears to be" enabling the production of plutonium, which is the "Plan B" in the article’s title.

The op-ed is particularly light on going beyond technical "what ifs." The authors treat Israel’s "red line" that Iran should not have 530 pounds of 20% enriched uranium as if it had some meaning outside of the presumed pie charts used for briefing purposes by the Israeli cabinet and they warn that there must be both sanctions and a credible military threat to forestall any attempt to exceed those limits. They assume that the heavy water reactor at Arak, which will become operational next year, will inevitably produce weapons grade plutonium, even though they concede that the reactor has no reprocessing plant to separate the plutonium from uranium and there is no other indication that Iran has plans to move in that direction. "Western negotiators should…demand that Iran shut down the Arak reactor" because once it is operational they will be reluctant to bomb it because of potential environmental damage, a la Chernobyl. They conclude that "Moderate messages from Tehran should not be allowed to camouflage Iran’s continuing progress towards a bomb."

"Progress towards a bomb" is a meaningless phrase that would apply to any one of the more than twenty countries that have a nuclear engineering program at one of their technical universities. The Iranian nuke program is conveniently treated as if it were a fait accompli, but there are numerous problems with that line of thinking as the theoretical capability to build a bomb is not the same has having the means or desire to do so. Benjamin Netanyahu has been warning about a nuclear weapon in the hands of the Mullahs ever since 1992, but it still has not arrived. Every six months there is a warning that Iran is again six months away from a weapon and every six months the date is moved back.

According to Yadlin and Golov, "breakout" will soon be two weeks. But both the CIA and Mossad agree that Iran has not made the admittedly political decision to create a nuclear weapon and the country’s religious leadership has even declared that such a device would be un-Islamic.

There have also been reports that Iran is actually reducing its supply of enriched uranium by converting it to reactor fuel, which cannot be used in a weapons while several Israeli senior officials have admitted that the alleged threat from Iran has been exaggerated and is containable. Also, a bomb in and of itself is useless unless it can be delivered. Iran has no delivery system and the creation of a nuclear warhead to be fitted on a ballistic missile is a hugely expensive and technically complicated engineering problem that might well be beyond its capability.

So Iran has no bomb and there is no real evidence that it is seeking to acquire one. Also there is no mention of Israel itself in the op-ed, perhaps understandable when two Israeli government officials are spouting the Likud Party line. Israel is the only nuclear armed power in the Middle East, possessing several hundred weapons together with the missiles and submarines that are capable of delivering them on target. It also has the most powerful conventional military, thanks to the United States, and might be regarded as the regional superpower. Successive US administrations have insisted that Washington will protect Israel, and even Senator Rand Paul has declared that an attack against Israel would be treated as an attack against the United States.

One has to wonder why The New York Times believes that being "balanced" somehow requires it to replay Israeli propaganda. If it really wanted to be even handed it might note somewhere on the editorial page that the op-ed is the product of authors who are affiliated with the Israeli government through an officially funded university think tank. It might also mention that Israel is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and its weapons program is regarded as a top secret. Iran is a signatory and its program for nuclear energy is perfectly legal, even encouraged under the terms of the NPT. It has permitted United Nations IAEA inspectors to view its facilities. Israel has never done so. So who is the miscreant? And who has started the most wars in the Middle East? The correct answer is Israel followed closely by the United States, not Iran, which has initiated no wars with anyone since the seventeenth century.

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Author: Philip Giraldi

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest.