The Long History of Lies about Iran
If the lies about Iraq taught us anything, it is that we must pay attention to the massive campaign of lies about Iran
There was a flood of articles and analyses on the tenth anniversary of invasion of Iraq on March 19, most of which focused on the lies, exaggerations, and half-truths that the War Party told the American people and the world in the run up to the war. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq have died as a result of the lies. Tens of thousands of people have also died as a result of the NATO aggression against Libya, as well as the war in Syria that is backed by the United States and its allies in that region, namely, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, with the carnage still continuing with no end in sight.
If the lies about Iraq have taught us anything, it is that we must pay due attention to the massive campaign of disinformation and lies that has been waged against Iran for over three decades, in order to “justify” a war with that nation. The campaign began with the hostage crisis after the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was overrun by Islamic leftist students on November 4, 1979, and is still continuing. There are still disinformation and one-sided stories about the hostage crisis, the latest of which is the film Argo. The biggest lie about Iran, which has been perpetuated since at least 1984, is that Iran is only a few months or a year or two away from a nuclear bomb, which has not materialized after nearly 30 years.
The campaign is separate from the secret war that has been waged on Iran for at least a decade, consisting of assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientists, killing of many innocent people by terrorist groups, such as the Jundallah, and waging a cyberspace war against Iran’s nuclear facilities that even a recent NATO study recognized as being tantamount to the use of force and illegal. The campaign of lies about Iran is much deeper and broader than the Iraq campaign, far better organized, and much better funded, with the funding provided by not just the American administrations – such as $400 million provided by the GW Bush administration for destabilizing the Iranian regime – but also the Israel lobby and the War Party. The campaign also includes demonization of Iran by Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has likened Iran to the Nazi regime, our era to 1938, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Adolf Hitler, an outrageous claim that has been criticized even in certain pro-Israel circles.
Stephen Walt has already listed top ten media failures about Iran. Here is a list of some of the most outrageous lies about Iran, but the list is by no means complete.
1981: One of the most brazen lies is that the U.S. does not interfere in Iran’s internal affairs. From the CIA coup of 1953 that overthrew the democratically-elected government of Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh and installing and supporting the dictatorship of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi for 25 years, to the aforementioned Bush budget for destabilizing Iran, the U.S. has always tried to interfere in Iran. On January 19, 1981, Iran and the U.S. signed the Algiers Accord to end the hostage crisis. In the Accord the U.S. promised that “it is and from now on will be the policy of the United States not to intervene, directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran’s internal affairs,” and that it will remove all of its sanctions against Iran. Not delivering on legally-binding promises is by itself a terrible lie.
1984: Jane’s Defense Weekly reported that West German intelligence believed that Iran could have a nuclear bomb within two years. Twenty-nine years later, that bomb has not been produced.
1988: An Iranian passenger airliner carrying 290 people was shot down over the Persian Gulf by the cruiser USS Vicennes, killing all the passengers and crew, including 56 children. To cover up the crime, the U.S. lied twice. It claimed that its cruiser was in the international waters, and that the airliners had been mistaken with a jet fighter. The International Civil Aviation Organization put the cruiser in Iran’s territorial waters, and Admiral William J. Crowe, then Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, also admitted later that the cruiser was in Iran’s territorial water. Newsweek magazine accused the U.S. of a “sea of lies” about mistaking a passenger airliner with a fighter jet.
1996: The Khobar towers in Saudi Arabia were bombed, killing 19 U.S. servicemen. For years the U.S. accused Iran of sponsoring the terrorist attack. But, in his book, The Secret History of Al-Qaeda, Abdel Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of the London-based Al Quds Al Arabi, detailed the involvement of Al-Qaeda in the attack. The 9/11 Commission reported that Osama Bin Laden was seen being congratulated on the day of the bombing. William Perry, who was Defense Secretary at that time, said in 2007 that he believes al-Qaeda, rather than Iran, was behind the attack, and Saudi Arabia’s interior minister Prince Nayef absolved Iran of any role in the attack.
1998: In its indictment of Bin Laden, the U.S. declared that Al-Qaeda, “forged alliances . . . with the government of Iran and its associated terrorist group [the Lebanese] Hezbollah for the purpose of working together against their perceived common enemies.” The allegation of a working relation between Iran and Al-Qaeda was repeated by Steven Emerson and the infamous Islamophobe Daniel Pipes in May 2001.
2001: There were allegations that Iran played a role in the September 11 terrorist attacks. But, the fact is that the Sunni/Salafi Al-Qaeda hates the Shiite Iran, and aside from rabid anti-Iran figures, such as Kenneth Timmerman and Pipes, no one believes that Iran had any role in the terrorist attacks. Then Iranian President Mohammad Khatami was one of the first heads of state to send a message of condolences to the American people. Even George W. Bush and his then Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin said that, “There was no direct connection between Iran and the attacks of September 11,” and Western intelligence agencies believe that there is zero chance of Iran helping Al-Qaeda to stage the terrorist attacks. In fact, in 2003 Iran offered to exchange members of Bin Laden family, who had fled to Iran after the U.S. attacked that nation in the fall of 2001, with the leadership of the Mojahedin-e Khalgh (MEK), an Iranian dissident cult who were in Iraq at that time, but the U.S. rejected the offer because the Pentagon wanted to train and use the MEK as a pressure group against Iran.
2002: In January Israel seized a cargo ship, Karine A, and alleged that it was carrying weapons for the Palestinian Authority with Iran’s help, an allegation that was supported by Colin Powell, then Secretary of State. In addition to the fact that Israel changed its history several times, there were also many holes in the official statements and allegations. After sometime, the allegations faded away and were never mentioned again.
2002: George Bush made the moronic declaration about the “axis of evil,” making Iran a charter member of the axis, of which Iran’s archenemy Saddam Hussein and his regime were also member. The absurdity and sheer magnitude of the lie about an alliance between Iran and Hussein’s regime was mind boggling. It was meant to demonize Iran and Iranians.
2005: Shortly after Ahmadinejad was elected Iran’s President in June, it was alleged that he had taken part in the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979. Nothing could be farther from the truth. As I discussed elsewhere, Ahmadinejad had in fact been opposed to the takeover.
2005: In October it was claimed by the War Party and the Israel lobby, and aided by the U.S. mainstream media, that Ahmadinejad has threatened to “wipe Israel off the map.” This was used by the Party and Lobby to push for military attacks on Iran. But, it was shown by many (see here and here, for example) that it was simply a mistranslation of what he had really said. In 2011 even Dan Meridor, Israel’s minister of intelligence and atomic energy, acknowledged that Ahmadinejad never uttered those infamous words. But, the lie is still repeated.
2006: In May the National Post of Canada published an article by Amir Taheri, an exiled Iranian “journalist” who is close to the necons, claiming that the Iranian parliament approved a law that “envisages separate dress codes for religious minorities, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians, who will have to adopt distinct color schemes to make them identifiable in public,” hence likening it to the special dress code for Jews in the Nazi regime. The National Post even stated that Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, had said the report to be “absolutely true,” and that Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Center had also confirmed it (though Hier denied it later on). It turned out that the story was a pure fabrication by Taheri, who has a long track record of reporting fictions as facts. Even the National Post retracted the story and apologized for publishing it.
2006: The Rupert Murdoch-owned Sunday Times of London alleged that Iran had tried to secretly import uranium from Congo, similar to George W. Bush’s infamous sixteen words, “The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,” which turned out to be a lie. The report turned out to be a fabrication.
2006: Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the then chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, issued a report in August that claimed, “Iran has conducted a clandestine uranium enrichment program for nearly two decades in violation of its IAEA safeguards agreement, and despite its claim to the contrary, Iran is seeking nuclear weapons,” an outrageous lie that prompted the IAEA to send a letter to Hoekstra, rebuking the report, calling it dishonest.
2006: The Daily Telegraph claimed that Iran had tried to get uranium from Somalia’s Islamic forces, another sheer fabrication.
2007: In his infamous diatribes, “The Case for Bombing Iran,” Norman Podhoretz, the Godfather of the Israel lobby, claimed that when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini said at one time that, “I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world,” he had meant Israel. This was sheer lie; the Ayatollah had never uttered the words. It was another fabrication by Taheri.
2007: In the same article Podhoretz also claimed that in 2001 former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani had said, “A day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession … application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.” This was another lie. I happened to be in Tehran, watching Rafsanjani on Iranian television when he uttered the alleged words. What Rafsanjani said was, “There will never be a nuclear exchange between Israel and the Islamic world, because a day will come when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession….” In other words, Rafsanjani was saying that Israel is wise enough not to want a nuclear war with Muslims, although even this correct observation of his was roundly criticized by Iran’s reformists and democratic groups.
2007: In another attempt to use Hollywood for demonizing Iran, the film 300, pitting Persians (Iranians) versus the Greeks, was produced, which was criticized for its clear anti-Persian stance, and making parallels between the ancient war and the present standoff.
2007: Senators Jon Kyle and Joseph Lieberman tried to declare the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) of Iran a terrorist organization. Then Senator Chuck Hagel, the current Defense Secretary, voted against it, saying it is unusual – I say an absurd lie – to declare the regular armed forces of a country a terrorist organization.
2008: The Daily Telegraph claimed that there were “fresh signs” that Iran had renewed work on developing nuclear weapons, which was again a fabrication. Two days later, the paper alleged that the IAEA could not account for 50-60 tons of uranium, which was supposed to be in Isfahan, where “Iran enriches its uranium.” Not only was the claim false, prompting the IAEA to reject the allegations, it was also erroneous in that there is no uranium enrichment site in Isfahan.
2009: The Times of London published a document – later on proved to be forged – that supposedly revealed “a four-year plan [by Iran] to test a neutron initiator [for triggering a nuclear reaction in the bomb.” On the same day, the Times’ reporter Catherine Phillips quoted Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, saying brazenly, “Is this the smoking gun? That’s the question people should be asking. It looks like the smoking gun. This is smoking uranium.”
2010: One of the lies about Iran, perpetuated by successive U.S. administrations, is that the United Nations Security Council and the “international community” – which in reality means the governments of the U.S., Britain, France, and Germany – are “united” against Iran. In reality, two permanent members of the Security Council, China and Russia, and a large number of two important international organizations, namely, the Non-Aligned Movement and the Conference of Islamic Countries do not support the unilateral sanctions against Iran by the U.S. and its allies, nor do they support the constant threats made against Iran. In 2010, when the U.S. began ratcheting up it sanctions, the lie was made more frequently than ever.
2011: Another anti-Iran film, Iranium, was produced by the same Islamophobe group that had produced the films “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West” and “The Third Jihad.” Iranium was replete with exaggerations and half-truths, if not outright lies, promoted military attacks on Iran, and was criticized.
2012: Too many false claims on Iran’s nuclear program were reported by George Jahn of the Associated Press, and others. Steven Erlanger, a New York Times reporter, was caught lying about Iran’s nuclear program.
2013: There have already been many hysteric warnings by Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) – also known as Institute for Scary Iranian Stories – and its President David Albright, including a recent one in the Wall Street Journal on stopping an “undetectable Iranian [nuclear] bomb,” a totally absurd notion that anyone with the knowledge that Iran’s uranium enrichment program is under full inspection and monitoring of the IAEA knows is untrue.
2013: Edward Jay Epstein wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Iran can buy nuclear bombs from North Korea “overnight,” another totally absurd notion. The Israelis have also not been silent. They now claim that Iran can make a nuclear bomb in 4-6 months, another dire “prediction.” This is at least “better” than the claim in the Washington Post in 2011 that Iran could produce the bomb in 62 days.
The above list is by no means complete, but it demonstrates clearly that the campaign of lies and exaggerations about Iran has been moving forward with full speed for over three decades. The campaign has nothing to do with the nature of the Iranian regime, which does violate the rights of it citizens, though that is an internal matter for the Iranians, but has everything to do with what General James Mattis, the U.S. Central Command commander said recently, namely, bringing Iran to its knees and removing it as a regional power that can resist the hegemonic will of the U.S. and Israel in the Middle East.
Muhammad Sahimi is Professor of Chemical Engineering & Materials Science and the NIOC Chair in Petroleum Engineering at the University of Southern California. In addition to his regular contributions to antiwar.com, he is also co-founder and editor of the website Iran News & Middle East Reports.
Read more by Muhammad Sahimi
- Deconstructing Senator Chuck Schumer’s Pro-War Statement About the Iran Nuclear Deal – August 11th, 2015
- Those Who Want War With Iran Should Explicitly Declare It – July 28th, 2015
- Demonizing Iran To Prevent the Nuclear Agreement – July 3rd, 2015
- As a Muslim and Iranian-American I Am Delighted Netanyahu Will Speak to Congress – March 1st, 2015
- Washington’s Hawks Provide Ammunition for Tehran’s Hawks – January 29th, 2015