The Five Blinding Myths About Iran

One of the promises that President Trump has kept is his promise to be tough on Iran. Though he has not canceled the nuclear weapons agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), he has "officially put Iran on notice," and he has imposed new sanctions.

More seriously, the New York Times reports that Secretary of Defense General James Mattis considered ordering the Navy to intercept and board an Iranian ship in international waters to search it for weapons being shipped to Yemen in support of the Houthis. According to White House officials, the operation was called off, not because it would likely have been an act of war, but because word of the operation leaked.

Mattis and the rest of the Trump administration have based this canceled operation and other plans to get tough on Iran on a number of myths about the Islamic Republic.

Myth One: Iran Is – or Was – Developing a Nuclear Bomb

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said repeatedly that “We have never pursued or sought a nuclear bomb, and we are not going to do so”. Both Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and his predecessor, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, have insisted that Iran would never pursue nuclear weapons because nuclear weapons are against the precepts of Islam. Khamenei has insisted that “from an ideological and fiqhi [Islamic jurisprudence] perspective, we consider developing nuclear weapons as unlawful. We consider using such weapons as a big sin.”

And no one really believes otherwise: not U.S. intelligence and not Israeli intelligence.

Former CIA director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta asked, "Are they [Iran] trying to develop a nuclear weapon?" and succinctly and pointedly answered: "No". The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), representing the collective conclusions of all of America’s many intelligence agencies, said with "high confidence" that Iran was not building a nuclear weapon. The 2011 NIE said that "the bottom-line assessments of the [2007] N.I.E. still hold true. We have not seen indications that the government has made the decision to move ahead with the program".

Yuval Diskin, the man who headed Shin Bet, the Israeli domestic intelligence agency, for six years, accused Prime Minister Netanyahu of "misleading the public on the Iran issue." And Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, then Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, insisted that Iran has not "made the decision" to pursue a nuclear weapons program. Then Defense Minister Ehud Barak, clearly stated that "it is not the case" that "Iran is determined to . . . attempt to obtain nuclear weapons . . . as quickly as possible." He added rhetorically, "To do that, Iran would have to announce it is leaving the inspection regime . . . . Why haven’t they done that?"

Former director of the I.A.E.A. Mohamed ElBaradei told investigative journalist Seymour Hersh that "[d]uring my time at the agency, we haven’t seen a shred of evidence that Iran has been weaponizing".

The bottom line is that no one – not the United States, not Israel, not the International Atomic Energy Agency – ever really believed Iran was developing nuclear weapons.

Myth 2: Iran is Not to be Trusted and is Violating the Nuclear Weapons Agreement

General Mattis has said that "the expectation" is "that Iran will cheat." But Iran hasn’t cheated. The latest report by the I.A.E.A says that Iran is "honoring its end of the deal." And each prior report since the deal was signed has said the same. The latest report says Iran has only about half the low-enriched uranium it is permitted to have under the agreement and that it is not enriching any uranium to the higher amounts that would be needed for nuclear weapons.

But there’s more than one way to cheat a nuclear agreement. The White House argues that Iran is in violation of the JCPOA due to its testing of a ballistic missile on January 29.

But Iran is not violating the JCPOA here either. Iran made agreements about their nuclear program, they never agreed to abandon their conventional weapons program, insisting, like every other nation, on maintaining the right to defend themselves.

Resolution 2231, approved in support of the JCPOA, "calls upon" Iran "not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons" for a defined period of time. Iran insists they are in compliance with this requirement because the missiles are defensive and are designed to carry a conventional payload: the missiles are not capable of being nuclear armed. Iran expert Gareth Porter says that Iran’s "ballistic missiles were not designed for nuclear weapons." Porter cites experts who say that "Iran’s medium-range missiles have been designed for conventional deterrence," and that "Iran would have to redesign at least the internal components of the missile to adapt it to carrying nuclear weapons."

Besides, since Iran verifiably does not have a nuclear weapons program, that the missile cannot carry a nuclear weapon becomes tautological. Similar earlier American claims about Iranian nuclear missiles have all been embarrassingly discredited.  

The missile was only medium range and exploded in only about half the distance required to reach Israel and no where near the distance to reach America.

The official record, then: Iran has consistently complied with the JCPOA nuclear agreement.

Myth Three: Iran is a Destabilizing Force in the Middle East and is the World’s Leading State Sponsor of Terrorism

The day after the US imposed the new sanctions on Iran, General Mattis declared that "As far as Iran goes, this is the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world." CIA director Mike Pompeo has similarly called Iran "the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism." And Trump, himself, told Bill O’Reilly that Iran is "the number one terrorist state."

There is no support for this claim.

Recent attempts to link Iran to terrorism have all been revealed as perjuries, including the assassination attempt on US soil of the Saudi ambassador to the United States, the attacks on Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia and earlier claims about the embassy and community center bombings in Buenos Aires.

Far from being an exporter of terrorism, Iran has been the recipient of US and Israeli terrorism, including the Stuxnet and Flame computer viruses that the US and Israel unleashed on Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities, the three assassinations and one more attempted assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists and the blowing up of a military arms depot that killed seventeen people, including Iranian missile pioneer Major General Hassan Moqqadam.

But all the while Iran was being a net importer, not exporter, of terrorism, the Iranian government was also leading the world in fighting the very terrorists that America was fighting in the war on terror: al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Iran is not "the largest state sponsor of terrorism." In Syria and Iraq, Iran is the largest state opposition of the most important terror. For many who are suffering in Iraq, Iran is even seen as eclipsing the States as their greatest ally in the fight against the terror threat of the Islamic State.

Not only has Iran been an asset in the fight against terrorism and not a state sponsor of terrorism, but the claim that it is "the largest" state sponsor of terrorism is absurd given what is now known about America’s Saudi ally’s sponsorship of Salafist terrorist groups. In The Rise of the Islamic State, Patrick Cockburn quotes Vice President Biden’s October 24, 2014 speech: "[O]ur allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. . . . They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad except that the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis."

Two years earlier, a 2012 classified Defense Intelligence Agency Information Intelligence Report that made the rounds through the US intelligence community identified the "supporting powers" of ISIS to be "Western countries, the Gulf States and Turkey." And in May of 2015, at a meeting at Camp David between President Obama the Princes of the Gulf Cooperation Council that knowledge was reiterated. According to David Ignatius of the Washington Post, at that summit, "Obama and other US officials urged Gulf leaders who are funding the opposition to keep control of their clients, so that a post-Assad regime isn’t controlled by extremists from the Islamic State or al-Qaeda.”

As early as December of 2009, a State Department cable had already clearly declared that “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban . . . and other terrorist groups.”

And Saudi Arabia’s support for al-Qaeda is nothing new: it goes all the way back to 9/11. One of the most important revelations in Seymour Hersh’s reporting on the truth of the Osama bin Laden killing – a detail that went largely undiscussed – is that the Saudis had been heavily financing bin Laden and al-Qaeda and that their motivation for putting bin Laden away was to prevent him from revealing that: "A worrying factor at this early point, according to the retired official, was Saudi Arabia, which had been financing bin Laden’s upkeep since his seizure by the Pakistanis. ‘The Saudis didn’t want bin Laden’s presence revealed to us because he was a Saudi, and so they told the Pakistanis to keep him out of the picture. The Saudis feared if we knew we would pressure the Pakistanis to let bin Laden start talking to us about what the Saudis had been doing with al-Qaeda. And they were dropping money – lots of it.’"

So, Iran is not a sponsor of state terrorism, is certainly not the largest sponsor of state terrorism and has been a crucial opponent of terrorism. American awareness of this unsubstantiated claim may be reflected in the recent removal of Iran from the annual Worldwide Threat Assessment presented to the Senate by Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper.

Myth Four: Iran is Not Really an Enemy of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda

In April 2016, in speech at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event, General Mattis said, "Iran is not an enemy of ISIS. They have a lot to gain from the turmoil in the region that ISIS creates. I would just point out one question for you to look into. What is the one country in the Middle East that has not been attacked by ISIS? One. And it’s Iran. That is just more than happenstance, I’m sure.”

Mattis’ claim defies reason. It does not follow that because ISIS has not attacked Iran that Iran doesn’t consider ISIS an enemy. There may be many reasons why ISIS hasn’t attacked Iran though Iran considers them an enemy: they may lack the ability to attack Iran, or attacking Iran may not further their agenda. The claim commits the logical fallacy of argument from ignorance: the claim that something is false simply because it has not been proven to be true. It is no more valid to claim that Iran isn’t an enemy because ISIS hasn’t shown them to be an enemy then it is to claim that there are no UFOs because it has never been proven that there are no UFOs.

Mattis also grossly committed the logical fallacy of omission of facts. Specifically, as discussed above, Iran has been one of the most committed and reliable state opponents of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. And Iran’s opposition to al-Qaeda and its allies is not a recent conversion. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban have been viewed with hostility by Iran from their inceptions. Iran has always viewed al-Qaeda and the Taliban as, in their essence, existential enemies of Iran. From the beginning, Iran has seen the Taliban as a Saudi and Pakistani cultivated Sunni force intended, in part, as an anti-Shia Iranian force that could pressure Iran from one side while Iraq squeezed Iran from the other.

Though little discussed, and never admitted, after 9/11, Iran backed the US, cooperating with them against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The Northern Alliance, who provided many of the anti-Taliban fighters once the Americans and her allies invaded Afghanistan, was, at least in part, put together by Iran, who placed it in the hands of the Americans. Iran offered its air bases to the US and permitted the US to carry out search and rescue missions for downed US planes. The Iranians also supplied the US with intelligence on Taliban and al-Qaeda targets. Iran was also crucial in setting up Afghanistan’s post-Taliban government and offered its help in rebuilding Afghanistan’s army.

Iran also arrested hundreds of al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters who escaped into her borders. Iran experts Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett say that Iran documented the identity of more than two hundred al-Qaeda and Taliban escapees to the U.N. and sent many of them back to their homelands. For many others who couldn’t be sent back to their own countries, Iran offered to try them in Iran. The States then named several more al-Qaeda operatives that it demanded Iran search for, arrest and deport.  According to Hillary Mann Leverett, who was negotiating directly with the Iranians for the White House, Iran captured some and said that the others were either dead or not in Iran.

Contrary to Mattis’ absurd claim, Iran has historically and consistently been an enemy of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Myth Five: Iran is Controlling and Arming the Houthis in Yemen

Constantly being broadcast from Washington is the claim that Iran controls and arms the Houthis in Yemen. But neither is true: they neither substantially arm them nor do they control them.

The US built its case that Iran was supplying weapons to the Houthis on an “assessment” that Iran was using fishing boats to smuggle weapons into Yemen. However, according to Gareth Porter, the US was never able to produce any evidence for the link between Iran and the Houthis because the boats were stateless, and their destination was Somalia, not Yemen. An earlier ship was, indeed, Iranian but was not really carrying any weapons.

In fact, Porter reports, when President Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced from power, he and his son, the former commander of the Republican Guard, maintained control over the army through their allies in the upper ranks. Saleh then found himself in an ironic alliance with the Houthis. The Saleh-Houthi alliance is ironic because, as Jeremy Scahill reports in his book Dirty Wars, Saleh was frequently at war with the Houthis, and, “to justify their wars against the Houthis to the United States, Saleh and the Saudis constantly used allegations of Iran’s support for the Houthis. . . .” That is, Saleh used the same deceptive claims then to the Americans as the Americans are using now. However, even then, the States knew the Houthi-Iran link was weak, and, as Scahill says, though “Saleh accused Iran of . . . backing the Houthis,” “In a subsequent classified cable, US officials . . . raised serious questions about the extent of Iranian involvement.”

Because of the alliance with Saleh the Houthis could get all the weapons they wanted from local arms markets and from corrupt Yemeni military commanders. The Houthi-Saleh-army alliance also strengthened the Houthis, making it possible for them to advance and take over military facilities from which they acquired American supplied weapons.

Just as Iran does not substantially arm the Houthis, so it does not control them. In fact, it seems they cannot control them. In 2014, the Iranians specifically discouraged the Houthis from capturing the Yemeni capital, Sanaa. Despite Iran’s position, the Houthis captured the city, effectively demonstrating Iran’s lack of control. In 2015, National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan says that "It remains our assessment that Iran does not exert command and control over the Houthis in Yemen." US intelligence agreed: "It is wrong to think of the Houthis as a proxy force for Iran," a US intelligence official told The Huffington Post. Yemen specialist Gabriele vom Bruck has called Iran’s influence over the Houthis "trivial." She says that the Houthis want to be independent, not controlled by Iran: "I don’t think the Iranians have influence in their decision-making." To the extent that Iran is involved in Yemen at all, that involvement was an invitation from the already started Saudi war and not a cause of it.

So, although myths may count as real in the world of "alternative facts," none of the myths upon which US hostility to Iran is based is true.

Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history. This originally appeared on ConsortiumNews and is reprinted with the author’s permission.