World

Benjamin Netanyahu Has Been Lying to Americans For 20 Years

It's a record that members of Congress should ponder on before they leap to applaud for his upcoming address.

Next week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will present his case against President Obama's talks with Iran; he is expected to portray Iran as an untrustworthy actor and Obama's diplomacy as naive and a distraction from more sanctions or even military action.

This case suffered a major setback this week as a major intelligence leak showed that Israel's own intelligence service, the Mossad, privately contradicted Netanyahu's public statements on Iran. The leaked secret cables show that as Netanyahu was presenting at the United Nations in 2012 a narrative that Iran that was just “weeks” away from producing enough enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb, Israel's own intelligence service found a very different conclusion. From The Guardian:

Mossad took a different view. In a report shared with South African spies on 22 October 2012 – but likely written earlier – it conceded that Iran was “working to close gaps in areas that appear legitimate, such as enrichment reactors, which will reduce the time required to produce weapons from the time the instruction is actually given”.

But the report also states that Iran “does not appear to be ready” to enrich uranium to the higher levels necessary for nuclear weapons. To build a bomb requires enrichment to 90%. Mossad estimated that Iran then had “about 100kg of material enriched to 20%” (which was later diluted or converted under the terms of the 2013 Geneva agreement). Iran has always said it is developing a nuclear programme for civilian energy purposes.

But Netanyahu's politicization of the Iran situation is nothing new. For decades, he has misled if not outright lied to Western allies about Iran's nuclear program as well as Iraq's. It's a record that Members of Congress should ponder on before they leap to applaud for his upcoming address.

Netanyahu's Tall Tales On Iran And Iraq

In 1992, Benjamin Netanyahu wasn't yet Prime Minister; he was a Likud member of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. He told his fellow lawmakers that Iran was 3 to 5 years away from a nuclear bomb, and that the only way to stop them was for them to be “uprooted by an international front headed by the U.S.”

By 1996, Netanyahu rode a right-wing wave in Israel and was elected Prime Minister; in July he was given his first opportunity to address the U.S. Congress. In his speech, he said Iran was the “most dangerous” of Middle East regimes and warned about the consequences of it acquiring nuclear weapons, saying that it would create “catastrophic consequences...for all of mankind.” He drew on many of the same themes he first introduced in his book Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorists. In that book he warned that “hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions” would perish if Iran were to possess nuclear weapons.

In both his speech to Congress and his book published a year earlier, he dedicated a significant amount of words to the supposed Iraq WMD threat as well. In 2002, he appeared before Congress as a private citizen to join a Congressional panel looking into the alleged threat from Iraq.

Here's a snippet from his testimony at that time:

There’s no question that [Saddam] has not given upon on his nuclear program, not [sic] whatsoever. There is also no question that he was not satisfied with the arsenal of chemical and biological weapons that he had and was trying to perfect them constantly…So I think, frankly, it is not serious to assume that this man, who 20 years ago was very close to producing an atomic bomb, spent the last 20 years sitting on his hands. He has not. And every indication we have is that he is pursuing, pursuing with abandon, pursuing with every ounce of effort, the establishment of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. If anyone makes an opposite assumption or cannot draw the lines connecting the dots, that is simply not an objective assessment of what has happened. Saddam is hell-bent on achieving atomic bombs, atomic capabilities, as soon as he can

Netanyahu went on to tell Congress that he believes “that even free and unfettered inspections will not uncover these portable manufacturing sites of death” – referring to centrifuges Iraq was supposedly using to produce nuclear weapons. In other words: nothing short of war was going to stop this Iraqi threat.

Watch his an excerpt of his speech below:

Thirteen years later, Netanyahu has yet to offer any sort of mea culpa for his remarks before the Congress about Iraq, but he did return his sights to his original target: Iran. In September of 2012, he appeared on Meet The Press to claim that Iran was “very close, they are six months away from being about 90 percent of having the enriched uranium for an atom bomb.” And it was that year where he gave his infamous cartoon-bomb-chart-assisted U.N. speech, which the recent leaks of Mossad intelligence severely undercut.

Calling His Bluff?

In 2001, a private video was filmed of Netanyahu at a campaign supporter's house shows him boasting that “America is a thing you can move very easily” – noting that he purposely dragged on the process with the Palestinians in order to prevent any resolution.

And indeed during his 2011 speech to Congress, he seemed to be proved correct. At that time, Members of Congress gave him 29 standing ovations, more than they gave their own president.

But things appear to have changed as he may have finally overplayed his hand. His upcoming address to Congress is being boycotted by nearly 30 Members of Congress; the White House won't be meeting with him, and neither will Secretary of State John Kerry. Additional sanctions on Iran, more or less designed to kill talks with that country, appear to be stalled, and a historic Iran deal appears imminent.

After 20 years of telling tall tales about Iran, Iraq, and the Palestinians, Netanyahu may finally be learning that you can't bluff forever. Eventually, people wise up to the act.

Zaid Jilani is an AlterNet staff writer. Follow @zaidjilani on Twitter.