The drumbeat for war with Iran is starting up again in Western media outlets, and it is following the usual pattern of promoting false claims to exaggerate the threat from Iran and its non-existent nuclear weapons. One recent report stands out as an example of how news outlets can misinform the public about major foreign policy issues to make military action seem as if it is inevitable. NBC News published a story that was supposedly on Biden’s trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia, but the story was focused almost entirely on whipping up fear of Iran’s nuclear program and distorting the facts about the Iranian government’s ability to obtain nuclear weapons. Now that the nuclear negotiations have stalled, we can expect to see even more agitation for attacking Iran and more "news" reports that pave the way for another unnecessary war.
One of the most important claims in the story is wildly inaccurate, and it creates the impression that the Iranian government could soon be on the verge of possessing nuclear weapons. According to the report, "Iran has stockpiled a significant amount of uranium enriched to 60 percent purity…and could create an atomic bomb in a matter of days if it chose to enrich the material to 90 percent, arms control experts says." Even if the Iranian government decided to enrich to 90%, which it hasn’t done, it would take much longer than a "matter of days" to build even one working weapon. That assumes that their government made the choice to build weapons in the first place, and that option is one that their government has rejected for a long time. The report doesn’t quote any of these "experts" by name, and we are just expected to swallow this outlandish claim.
Readers wouldn’t know from this report that Iran hasn’t had anything resembling a nuclear weapons program for decades. The Iranian government’s desire to get a bomb is simply taken for granted without any proof. If all of this seems eerily like the propaganda leading up to the invasion of Iraq, that’s because it is the same script for selling a completely unjustifiable preventive war.
Like almost every news report on Iran’s nuclear program, this one also never mentions that Israel already possesses dozens of nuclear weapons or that its government has been sounding false alarms about Iran’s imminent acquisition of the same for decades. The story also fails to acknowledge that the most significant advances of Iran’s nuclear program have occurred in just the last year and a half as a direct response to Israeli assassination and sabotage attacks. The Iranian government had never enriched uranium to 60% before the attack on its Natanz facility last year, and it started doing so because of that attack. If Iran and Israel are on a "collision course," as the report says, it is the Israeli government – with US indulgence – that put them on that course.
Had it not been for the US "maximum pressure" campaign of economic warfare and Israeli covert attacks, Iran’s nuclear program would still be under the restrictions put in place by the nuclear deal that Iran had been abiding by for years before the US went back on its word. To the extent that there is a potential looming nuclear crisis in the Middle East, it is the direct result of hawkish policies aimed at wrecking a successful nonproliferation agreement and creating a pretext for conflict.
The Israeli government has worked overtime to sabotage the nuclear deal while its sabotage attacks on Iranian facilities have provoked the acceleration of their nuclear program. After undermining U.S. diplomacy for years and actively making the situation worse, the Israeli government now wants US assistance to compound these earlier errors with military strikes. The Iranian government isn’t building nuclear weapons, but hardliners in the US and Israel are doing all they can to give them an incentive to do so in order to ward off a possible attack.
If the Israeli government were truly worried about Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, it would not have bitterly opposed a successful nonproliferation agreement. Had it been serious about keeping Iran’s nuclear program peaceful, it would not have sought to destroy that agreement once it was in place. Should that government seeks US assistance in launching a war of criminal aggression against Iran, Biden should reject their request and tell them that the US won’t come to their aid if things go badly for them.
The absurdity of all this is that Iran’s nuclear program does not pose a real threat to the US or Israel. It never has. Even if Iran built a few nuclear weapons at some point in the future, it would still be confronted with a nuclear-armed Israel with a much larger arsenal, and the US would have even less to fear from Iran. The idea that these two very powerful states have to "protect" themselves from a much weaker one is nonsense, but so much of our debate over Iran policy revolves around the belief that the sanctions and attacks from the US and Israel are reasonable and Iran’s reactions to them are not. Perhaps if the US and Israel ceased their relentless hostility, they might find that the Iranian government would be willing to be more pragmatic as well.
All things considered, we shouldn’t want more states to have nuclear weapons, and all existing nuclear weapons states should be working towards disarmament. Regardless, the obsession with Iran’s program has been out of all proportion to the potential danger that it poses. Nonproliferation is important, but it is never so important that it warrants starting a war. The only way to manage the nuclear issue is through negotiations and compromise, and it is still not too late for the US to return to that path.
Daniel Larison is a contributing editor and weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.