Nuclear Iran: Netanyahu's career in a nutshell

Nuclear Iran: Netanyahu's career in a nutshell
Analysis: The Israeli prime minister has built a career on the popular fears of Iran's nuclear programme and ambitions, writes Ibrahim Halawi.
3 min read
15 July, 2015
Netanyahu is haunted by a history of wrongful predictions on Iran's nuclear bomb [Getty]
As Iran and world powers came closer to seal a nuclear agreement, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made several attempts to save what is left of his anti-Iran argument.

On the day the nuclear deal was announced and celebrated as a beacon of hope for the future, Netanyahu stood nearly alone, claiming that "the world is a much more dangerous place today than it was yesterday".

All through his political career, Netanyahu has sought to portray Iran as the negation of what is referred to as "Western values". In that sense, the language of modernity, rationality, and cooperation - largely reduced in Netanyahu's eyes to "being Western" - are seen as lacking in Iran.

The centre and far-right in Israel, led by Netanyahu, based its foreign policy narrative on framing Iran as an irrational player in the regional and international arena.

Israel's hollow narrative against Iran has failed to evolve, while diplomacy with Iran was evolving.

World powers, including the US, were constructively engaging with Iran in one of the most complicated and rational efforts in modern political history to avoid war. 

The Israeli government, meanwhile, was reiterating a constant narrative against Iran that only turned, with the turn of events, from unrealistic to ridiculous.

Political career

In 1992, then-parliamentarian Netanyahu advised the Israeli Knesset that Iran was "three to five years" away from reaching nuclear weapons capability, and that this threat had to be "uprooted by an international front headed by the US".

In 1995, Netanyahu wrote a book entitled Fighting Terrorism in which he, again, claimed that Iran would have a nuclear weapon in "three to five years", apparently forgetting about the expiration of his old deadline.

In 1996, Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress where he warned: "If Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, this could presage catastrophic consequences, not only for my country, and not only for the Middle East, but for all mankind", adding that "the deadline for attaining this goal is getting extremely close".
     Netanyahu sought to portray Iran as the negation of what is referred to as "Western values".

Bibi briefly shifted focus onto Saddam, turning away from Iran for a while, and hyping the purported nuclear threat posed by Iraq, claiming there was "no question" that it was "advancing towards to the development of nuclear weapons".

In 2002, Netanyahu claimed that Iraq's nonexistent nuclear programme was in fact so advanced that the country was now operating "centrifuges the size of washing machines".

In 2009, a US State Department diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks revealed then-prime ministerial candidate Netanyahu informing a visiting Congressional delegation that Iran was "probably one or two years away" from developing weapons capability. No evidence was offered.

In the same year, another leaked cable showed Netanyahu, by then a prime minister, telling a separate delegation of Washington's politicians in Jerusalem that "Iran has the capability now to make one bomb," adding that alternatively, "they could wait and make several bombs in a year or two".

In 2010, he told The Atlantic in a conversation with Jeffrey Goldberg, "You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs," adding, "that’s what is happening in Iran."

In 2012, he addressed the United Nations General Assembly where he alleged that Iran would have the ability to construct a weapon within roughly one year, while using a printout of a cartoon bomb to illustrate his point.

Earlier this year, Al-Jazeera reported leaked intelligence cables saying Netanyahu was brandishing his cartoon bomb - while Israeli intelligence had actually determined the country was "not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons".

Commenting on the nuclear deal, Netanyahu said that the deal was an "historic mistake".

Israel's distrust in global efforts to solve disputes through diplomacy reflects its war-thirsty government that only sees modernity and rationality through the lens of its militarised system.