Iran is about a year away from developing a nuclear bomb! That is not me getting hysterical --- it's US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in an interview on American television:
"The consensus is that, if they decided to do it, it would probably take them about a year to be able to produce a bomb and then possibly another one to two years in order to put it on a deliverable vehicle of some sort in order to deliver that weapon."
Panetta is not the only one sounding the alarm. His statement echoes that made by Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak last November about the 'when' of Iran's supposed nuclear weapons program.
All very worrying. Just as it has been worrying on every occasion over the last 7 1/2 years when Iran was on the verge of The Bomb. Here's a small selection of the declarations:
- July 2004: Israeli military intelligence chief General Aharon Zeevi Farkash tells Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that Iran will have a nuclear weapons capacity by 2007.
- February 2006: US National Intelligence Director John Negroponte says Iran could develop a nuclear arsenal as early as 2010.
- December 2007: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert estimates that Iran will have the capability of building a bomb by 2010.
- February 2008: Israel's Mossad estimates that Iran will develop a nuclear weapon within three years.
- January 2009: The International Institute for Strategic Studies estimates Iran will amass enough low-enriched uranium to build a nuclear weapon by the end of 2010.
- September 2009: Iran experts at the International Atomic Energy Agency believe Tehran has the capability to develop nuclear weapons.
- December 2009: Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak says that Iran will have the technology to build a nuke by early 2010 and produce one by 2011.
- January 2011: British Minister of Defence Liam Fox estimates Iran could develop nuclear weapons by as early as 2012.
There are dozens of others guesstimates, estimates, declarations, and certainties, omitted here for the sake of the reader's time, in the hive-mind of the internet. They all illustrate that, far from carrying out the essential task of a realistic evaluation of Tehran's capability, some of those in key positions inside and outside Governments set aside accuracy for polemical warnings.
Analysts might cite Stuxnet, the worm that has supposedly struck Iran's computers, as the reason why many of these predictions did not come to fruition, but the cyber-attack was not around until 2010 --- six years after the earliest estimate posted here, and a full 15 years after predictions of Tehran with The Bomb in 2000. The stern assessments have been churned out, scary-fied, and then thrown at the masses with caveats such as, "The US will not allow Iran to get nukes" or "Israel might attack Iran's nuclear facilities possibly within months".
Luckily, the predictions have yet to result in such catastrophe, but they slowly but steadily built an image in the mind of the general public of Iran with nuclear weapons near its grasp. Just a couple of years. No, maybe a year. The "maybe a year", "two years" pass without predictions fulfilled, but they have already rattled those concerned about the issue, those who may not have the time to go back and check the timeline of false jeremiads.
Iran getting its hands on nuclear weapons may be an ominous prospect. But that scenarios should be based on statements backed by facts. Otherwise, all the rhetoric does is, at best, scare people at, and at worst, build a case for an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities and possibly a war. Given the fact that the "at worst" is being sought by some on the right and on the left, Panetta and Barak,for all the hyperbole in their comments, may not be putting out false visions. Unwittingly or wittingly, they may be the trumpet-blowers for a tragedy that is real.