Bibi’s 20-year Iran warnings

Benjamin Netanyahu says an Iranian nuclear threat is imminent. He said that in 1992 too

Topics: Israel, Iran, Nuclear Weapons, Middle East, Diplomacy, ,

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared on CNN and NBC’s “Meet The Press” to call on the United States to draw a “red line” for Iran, which cannot be crossed without incurring military action. For all the urgency of his talk of line drawing “before it’s too late,” it’s worth recalling that we’ve heard this line from Bibi before.

The hawkish premier undergirded his calls for action with the claim that by mid-2013 Iran would have 90 percent of the material it needed for an atomic weapon. However, as the Christian Science Monitor’s Scott Peterson pointed out late last year, warnings about imminent nuclear threats from Iran date back “more than a quarter of a century … And yet, those predictions have time and time again come and gone.”

Most interestingly, in 1992, Netanhyahu himself — an Israeli parliament member at the time — told colleagues that Iran was three to five years from being able to produce a nuclear weapon and that the threat had to be “uprooted by an international front headed by the U.S.”

Other historical moments of imminent nuclear threats from Iran include:

1992: Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres predicts an Iranian nuclear warhead by 1999 to French TV.

1995: The New York Times quotes U.S. and Israeli officials saying that Iran would have the bomb by 2000.

1998: Donald Rumsfeld tells Congress that Iran could have an intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit the U.S. by 2003.

Yesterday, the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler notes that Bibi’s most recent point — about Iran amassing the material for a nuclear bomb — is technically correct. “The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency suggests that Iran already has more than enough uranium enriched to 20 percent that could converted into weapons-grade (90 percent) uranium for at least one nuclear weapon,” Kessler notes. However, he goes on to say that although Iran might be “ninety percent of the way there” — as Bibi emphasizes —  ”ninety percent is not one hundred percent, and close only counts in horseshoes” (although in some respects close does count when it comes to nuclear weapons).  Kessler highlights that Iran has been 90 percent of the way there before and will be again in terms of uranium enrichment, which is not the same thing as having a bomb.

So while Netanyahu invokes the 90 percent figure, or the six month timeline, it’s worth remembering which dates and figures work against him, including his 1992 prediction.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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