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Israeli Claim of Iranian ICBM Exploits Biased U.S. Intel

The Israeli claim of Iranian ICBMs targeting the United States was first made 15 years ago, after a commission led by Donald Rumsfeld warned in mid-1998 that Iran and North Korea “could” threaten the United States with ICBMs within five years.  Credit: public domain

The Israeli claim of Iranian ICBMs targeting the United States was first made 15 years ago, after a commission led by Donald Rumsfeld warned in mid-1998 that Iran and North Korea “could” threaten the United States with ICBMs within five years. Credit: public domain

WASHINGTON, Oct 11 2013 (IPS) - In an effort to provoke any possible opposition in U.S. political circles to a nuclear deal with Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has returned to exploiting an old claim that Iran is building intercontinental ballistic missiles that could hit the United States.

The Netanyahu claim takes advantage of the extreme position that has been taken on the issue by Pentagon and Air Force intelligence organisations but goes even further.

In an Oct. 1 interview with Bob Schieffer of CBS News, Netanyahu said Iranians are “building ICBMs to reach…the American mainland within a few years”. And in an interview with Charlie Rose a week later, he said the Iranians “are developing ICBMs – not for us, but for you.”

Netanyahu added, “The American intelligence agency knows as well as we do that Iran is developing ICBMs.”

Independent specialists on the issue say, however, that no evidence supports Netanyahu’s claim.

Michael Elleman of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, the author of an authoritative study on Iran’s missile programme, told IPS, “I’ve seen no evidence of Iranian ICBM development, let alone a capability.”

Elleman said Iran would need to test a missile at least a half dozen — and more likely a dozen times — before it would have an operational capability for an ICBM.

Thus far, however, Iran has not even displayed, much less tested, a larger version of its existing space launch vehicle that would be a necessary step toward an ICBM, according to David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Programme at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Iran has only tested a space launch vehicle that can put a very small satellite into orbit, Wright told IPS.

“The fact that it’s not happening suggests something is holding them back,” said Wright. “Clearly we’re not seeing them moving very fast in that direction.”

The highly politicised nature of U.S. intelligence assessments on the Iranian ballistic missile programme has given Netanyahu the opportunity to make the claims of an incipient Iranian ICBM without fear of being called out.

Pentagon and industry interests pushing the idea of an Iranian ICBM threat to get support for spending on a missile defence system have long had a deep impact on intelligence assessments of the issue.

Netanyahu actually began warning of Iranian ICBMs targeting the United States 15 years ago, after a commission on foreign ballistic missile threats led by Donald Rumsfeld had warned in mid-1998 that Iran and North Korea “could” threaten the United States with ICBMs within five years.

The Rumsfeld Commission, which was organised to pressure the Bill Clinton administration to approve a national missile defence system, arrived at its five-year timeline by inviting the four major military contractors to suggest how Iran might conceivably succeed in testing an ICBM.

It also rejected the normal practice in threat assessment of distinguishing between what was theoretically possible and what was likely.

Since 2001, the U.S. intelligence community has been saying that Iran “could” have the capability to test an ICBM by sometime between 2012 and 2015, if it was given enough foreign – meaning Russian – assistance.

But it was generally recognised that the Russian government was unlikely to assist Iran in building an ICBM. And as the report on the issue published by the National Intelligence Council in December 2001 explained, “We judge that countries are much less likely to test as early as the hypothetical ‘could’ dates than they are by our projected ‘likely’ dates.”

In other words, “could” actually meant “is unlikely to”. But that fact was never covered in news articles, so it remained unknown except among a few policy wonks.

By 2009, it had become obvious to most of the intelligence community that the 2015 date could no longer be defended, even with the misleading “could” formulation. A National Intelligence Estimate that year, which was never made public, reportedly said Iran couldn’t achieve such a capability until sometime between 2015 and 2020.

Intelligence organisations connected with the Pentagon and the Air Force, however, never gave up the 2015 date. The Air Force’s National Air and Space intelligence Centre and the Defence Intelligence Agency published a paper that repeated the mantra: “With sufficient foreign assistance, Iran could probably develop and test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the United States by 2015.”

In April 2010, the Pentagon quoted that statement word for word in a report to Congress.

When Netanyahu wanted to turn the heat up on the Iran nuclear issue in February 2012, his close allies cited that military estimate in support of an even more extreme claim. Strategic affairs minister Moshe Yaalon said Iran was developing a missile with a 6,000-mile range, which would allow it to reach the east coast of the United States.

Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz went even further. “We estimate,” he said, “that in two or three years they will have the first ICBMs that can reach the east coast of America.”

Steinitz said the Israeli assessment was in line with the assessment of the Pentagon. But even the military estimate doesn’t say that Iran would have such an ICBM. It said only that Iran could test an ICBM, which would still leave Iran several years away from having an operational ICBM.

In July 2013, the Air Force National Air and Space intelligence Centre, DIA and Office of Naval Intelligence issued a new report on “Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat” that states flatly, “Iran could develop and test an ICBM capable of reaching the United States by 2015.”

That language omitted any reference to foreign assistance, which had always been a key element in the formula that had been adopted to satisfy missile defence interests.

But those interests were obviously pressing for even stronger language. Missile defence advocates have been pressing Congress to approve a missile defence site on the East Coast, making an Iranian ICBM threat even more important politically.

Iran, meanwhile, has said it is not interested in ICBMs at all. Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi said in April 2010 that Iran “has no plans to build such a missile”.

And Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Aerospace Division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which has guided Iran’s missile programme for decades, said in 2011 that Iran had no intention of producing missile with ranges beyond 2,000 km.

Iran was only interested in missiles that targeted U.S. bases in the region, Hajizadeh said.

Iran had a good strategic reason for its disinterest in an ICBM, according to a team of U.S. and Russian specialists who analysed the Iranian missile programme in May 2009. Iran would have to use rocket motor clusters, the U.S.-Russian team observed, and longer-range missiles based on that technology would have to be launched from above ground.

It would take days to prepare for launch and hours to fuel – all of which would be clearly visible to spy satellites, according to the team.

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

 
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  • diaz’s cashed bowl

    Iran is made of rubber, Israel of glue, every accusation Israel makes bounces back and sticks on Jews.

  • Truth

    Mr. Porter, you sound like those in the 1930′s who said that Hitler was no threat to the world. Netanyahu has called it correctly. Iran’s IS developing rockets under the guise of “space exploration”. If you think for one moment that Iran has any interest in space, you are delusional. Islamic republics have absolutely no interest in space exploration but every desire for making Islam the world’s religion along with the destruction of who the Bible calls “God’s Chosen People. Do you think Iran’s daily threats of destroying Israel are just jokes? By your attitude, I believe that you support the destruction of Jews.

    Iran’s interest in long range rockets has everything to do with attacking America, either as a deterrent to coming to Israel’s aid in the event of an Iran-Israel war, or as a way of destroying what they call the “great satan”. Attacking the US would bring about America’s overwhelming retaliation that will fulfill Shiite end times prophecy. They wholeheartedly believe that the near destruction of Iran will bring about the return of Islam’s redeemer and the placement of Islam as the ruling force of the world. It’s time to stop enabling evil that always results in mass destruction and death of millions of innocent people. Wake up!

  • Truth

    Spoken like a true anti-Semite! I’m sorry to tell you that the facts support Israel’s accusations. I’m quite sure that, if Iran’s evil plans come to fruition, you’ll have some kind of story to justify them.

  • magic123

    I absolutely abhor this nut case Natenyahu. He is the worst kind of politician, liar, cheater, arrogant, ruthless, … He is as bad or even worse than the ex president of Iran, Ahmadinejad. Iranians threw out Ahmadinejad. When will Israelis wake up and throw out this scumbag.

  • magic123

    If your truth is this then I can’t imagine what your fiction will be!!

  • spring12

    what facts. the only thing that supports israeli claim is deceive. being anti israel does not make one anti Semite. this is getting too lame

  • spring12

    the only threat we see here is a nutcase schizophrenic called bibi running around and threatening to attack another country. your country is build on lies and deceive, but people have caught up w/ that that is why 99% of the world have not supported Israel against Palestinian statehood.

  • spring12

    change your name to deceive. that will fit you more. in case you forgot. it has been Israel who preemptively has attacked Iraq’s nuclear facilities, and Syria’s nuclear facilities as well as Lebanon and many more. your garbage lies is not selling anymore.

  • Truth

    Scumbag? That man only wants to defend his people from terrorists like you. Ahmadinejad’s term expired. He was not thrown out. A few years ago, when the people revolted, they were met with government violence ordered by him.

  • Truth

    Yes, facilities that were built to make fuel for nuclear bombs. You are the liar!

  • Truth

    Really? Ever since it overthrew the Shah and turned into an Islamic Republic, Iran has threatened to cover Israel with fire, turn its cities to ashes, push its people into the sea, I can on and on. These are not lies but are well documented. Israel is only defending itself against the terrorists you support including those “poor” Palestinians, whom are not even supported by the rest of the Muslim world.

  • Truth

    You are the liar! May the real God have mercy on your soul!

  • Truth

    The fact that Iran is building nuclear bombs. One does not bury peaceful nuclear research under mountains. Do I deceive when I say the Koran tells Muslims to kill Jews wherever they find them? Is this the “peaceful religion” I hear so much about? Iran wants to fulfill this commandment of Mohammed.

  • magic123

    Which “real” god are you talking about. I thought all of them were imaginary and not real.

  • magic123

    If AJ’s term was expired then you admit that Iran is somewhat democratic and there was a transition of government. I dislike IRI but vitriol against Iran by Bibi and people like you knows no boundary and are full of lies. Israel with all kinds of aggression against all its neigbhors and in possesion of over 200 nukes is not qualified to tell others about non-aggression and non-proliferation.

  • Truth

    When the ayatollahs run the country and must approve who the candidates are, then you cannot say there is real democracy. Israel does not start aggression but answers violence against them with violence in return. Israel never threatened to destroy its neighbors. Iran threatens to destroy Israel on a daily basis. for that reason, they are qualified to say that those who want their country destroyed should not have nuclear weapons. When someone threatens to kill you, you do not let them go out and get a gun to fulfill their threats.

  • Truth

    That, my friend, is why you are the messed person that you demonstrate you are. But you believe in magic though.

    It is fiction that Iran has intercontinental “space” missiles and atomic reactors for peaceful purposes. You don’t build things for peaceful purposes in secret places, hardened under mountains and surrounded by defense systems. They threaten Israel and America all the time. Why should anyone believe that their intentions are peaceful? Iran’s leaders lie all the time. Rouhani wrote a book and in it admits that, when he was the nuclear negotiator, he used the calm time of negotiate to further their nuclear development deceiving his counterparts about what they were doing.

  • R. Daneel Olivaw

    That is also the Christian evangelical prophecy that Christ will return when Israel is destroyed, so I wouldn’t take that too seriously…
    You are asking the US to go to a war resulting in many many death and back breaking costs to the tax payers on your mere unjustified fear and intuition that is neither logical nor bares any common sense and is mostly rooted from lack of knowledge about Iran’s geopolitical factors and foreign policy.

    The truth is that Bibi has been saying that Iran is 6-12 month away from building an atomic bomb for the past twenty years and he looks like the boy who cried wolf.
    I agree that Iran has said a lot of harsh rhetoric and they have paid dearly for them. But they are only rhetoric and frankly Ahmadinejad did the greatest favor to Bibi for running around and saying those rhetoric.
    Now you may ask why would Iranian leaders say those things. The answer is very simple. A majority of Muslim population (not their governments) are sympathizing with Palestine and Iran wants to be the country that stood up to big bad USA and Israel and look as they are the only protector of Palestine to the Muslim world. That is their way of gaining a political hegemony in the Middle East which also helps the regime to stay in power (this is of course too bad for the Iranian people). That is the only reason they use the rhetoric. They never do something as stupid as dropping a bomb on Israel, because a) that translates to their own total destruction and b) it will destroy their allies Lebanon.

    Martin van Creveld, a former distinguished professor of military history and strategy at Hebrew University in Jerusalem wrote this in 2004:

    “Even if the Iranians are working on a bomb, Israel may not be their real concern. Iran is now surrounded by American forces on all sides – in the Central Asian republics to the north, Afghanistan to the east, the Gulf to the South and Iraq to the west….Wherever U.S. forces go, nuclear weapons go with them or can be made to follow in short order. The world has witnessed how the United States attacked Iraq for, as it turned out, no reason at all. Had the Iranians not tried to build nuclear weapons, they would be crazy. Though Iran is ruled by Islamic fundamentalists, most commentators who are familiar with the country do not regard its government as irrational….[I]t was Saddam Hussein who attacked Iran, not the other way around; since then Iran has been no more aggressive than most countries are. For all their talk of opposition to Israel, Iran’s rulers are very unlikely to mount a nuclear attack on a country that is widely believed to have what it takes to wipe them off the map. Chemical or other attacks are also unlikely, given the meager results that may be expected and the retaliation that would almost certainly follow.”

  • R. Daneel Olivaw

    Here are also some facts I be happy to send you the links:

    In March 2002, the Arab League summit in Beirut unanimously put forth a peace initiative that commits it not just to recognize Israel but also to establish normal relations once Israel implements the international consensus for a comprehensive peace-which includes Israel withdrawing from the occupied territories and a just settlement of the Palestinian refugee crisis. (This peace initiative has been subsequently reaffirmed including at the March 2009 Arab League summit at Doha.) All 57 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, including Iran, “adopted the Arab peace initiative to resolve the issue of Palestine and the Middle East…and decided to use all possible means in order to explain and clarify the full implications of this initiative and win international support for its implementation.

    -In 2012, Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor acknowledged that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad never said that Iran seeks to “wipe Israel off the face of the map.” This falsely translated statement has been exploited by the US and Israel to demonize Iran and gain support for sanctions and possible military action.

    During Ahmadinejad’s first term, Iranian television presented a serial sympathetic to Jews during the Holocaust Following that Iranian television ran a widely watched serial on the Holocaust, Zero Degree Turn, based on true accounts of the role Iranian diplomats in Europe played in rescuing thousands of Jews during WWII.

  • A.Rizvi

    Koran says Jews and Christians will go to haven as long as they believe in One God and do good deeds. Muslims always respected Jews and lived with them before Israel was created.

  • Davey Wavey

    Why “anti-semitic?” One can talk about the Italians, the Egyptians, the Syrians. Why not “the Jews”? Why is that “anti-semitic?” Jews apparently want it two ways. When convenient, “Jewish” is a religion and therefore criticism of Jewish ambitions and interests is tagged as “intolerance.” On the other hand, Jewish is an ethnicity and any criticism is tagged as “racism.” This slimy game of “anti-semitism” serves Jewish interests because such real political interests cannot be questioned. It is time for Americans to wake up to this game. If criticism of Israel is “anti-semitic” then so be it. In this case then anti-semitism makes a lot of moral and political sense.

  • Davey Wavey

    They bury this work under mountains so that Israel cannot easily destroy it as it does, illegally by the way, whenever it likes. Maybe the Koran says such a thing (but I doubt it.) Even so, it is the Jewish state of Israel that is killing Muslims, not the other way around. Who could blame Muslim rage when you look at the stats, e.g. Cast Lead 1450 mostly civilians, mostly Muslim, including 350 children. Israel had 10 deaths, four of which were friendly fire.

  • Davey Wavey

    From “terrorists?” You mean the indigenous people of Palestine who do not concede the total expropriation of their land, patrimony, rights, homes and –yes — even bank accounts? Is that who you mean by “terrorists.” And “defend?” Defense has meant the expansion of Israel at gunpoint, clear violation of founding UN charter. Defense has meant invasions of Lebanon (10,000 mostly Muslims dead there), the imprisonment of 1.5 million in Gaza and the devastation of Palestinian life in the West Bank while Israelis “settle” on other people’s property! Some “defense”. Hitler, too, characterized the invasion of Poland as the “defense” of a German minority. You really are a fool.

  • Davey Wavey

    “Terror” is the IDF bulldozing the home of an arrested Palestinian, a concept of retribution and justice that was popular in Medieval Europe. Terror is phosphorus bombs and cluster bombs. Where is the opposing army, navy, and air force? Where are the Palestinian tanks, anyway.

  • Davey Wavey

    Israel is a military dictatorship, an oligarchy run by a handful of families. The candidates and parties are all run by the military. And, in Israeli sphere of influence, millions are disenfranchised anyway. “Democracy?” Nobody cares about this. Not the US or Israel which is why they align with the dictators of the ME. Popular will, true popular will, is a threat against American empire and Israeli hegemony. When Hamas was elected by the Gazans, the US broke off aid and Israel has been “punishing” this democratically-elected government ever since. That’s why the blockade of foodstuffs, building materials, medicines, textiles, toys, etc. It is to make Gaza suffer for electing an organization that has not forgotten where the people of Gaza actually come from, has not forgotten the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Shame shame, that memory should live on from one generation to the next.

  • Davey Wavey

    Germany was a powerful state. Iran is debilitated by sanctions. Why can’t Iran develop rockets, build universities, study medicine and nuclear science and anything a civilized nation should and would undertake? Because Israel doesn’t like competition, that’s why. Iran is a potential countervailing force to Israeli hegemony in the ME. Israel has nukes and has threatened to use them. Iran does not have nukes and has not threatened to build them or use them. A nuclear Iran would produce a Cold War balance of power in the region, it would create stability which Israel definitely does not desire (as it is the cause sui generis of instability.) Instability, fomented by Israel, has allowed Israel to steal more land, extort more money from innocent American taxpayers, claim that the 67 borders are “indefensible” when in fact they were defended very well indeed in the 1967. Stupid people are stupid people, unable to think. How did Israel defend those borders so well that it grew in size as a result? Almost everything about Bibi is a sham. What army does he face now? What is he defending against, homemade rockets that rarely if ever hurt anyone? Americans have been fed a diet of Zionist lies about Israel-Palestine: The central lie is that there is an existential threat over Israel. Israel has not faced obliteration ever. Let’s do that again: Not ever.

  • Truth

    You are so delusional that it’s pathetic. Israel has NEVER even admitted that they have nukes so how could they have threatened to use them? If not for the US’s help, the blood thirsty Arabs would have committed genocide on them decades ago.
    Iran shouldn’t develop nuclear weapons because they threaten to wipe out Israel on a daily basis. If you have a neighbor who threatens to kill you and your family everyday, you do all you can to stop him from buying a gun.
    You think it’s acceptable that the terrorists’ “homemade rockets” are being used against Israel. They fire them from hospital parking lots and schoolyards so that Israel can’t shoot back. They hide among the residents, using them as human shields. And when these shields get killed you say that the evil, murderous Israelis are at fault. The animals that shoot at Israel are cowards.

  • Truth

    We shall see.

  • Truth

    “Indigenous”??? You have no knowledge of history. The Jews have lived in that country continually for 3,000 years. They lost their government when they rebelled against the Romans, one of the few people who had the balls to do so. The Romans destroyed Jerusalem but not the Jewish people. The invasion of Lebanon? You must be talking about Israel defending itself from the terrorists there who, like the rest of their “friendly neighbors”, won’t be happy until every Jew is dead, something their “holy book” calls for.

  • Truth

    Who needs tanks when you can strap on explosives under your coat and walk into a night club or wedding party and kill those who never did anything to you? Bulldozing is harsh but one has to do what they have to do in order to stop blood thirsty terrorists.

  • Truth

    You want to talk about aid? Why is Mrs. Arafat sitting in Paris with the millions given to the Palestinian people by the US? Why is there money for suicide vests but none for sewers and reliable electric power? The priority of these people is not the welfare and progress of their nation but the destruction of the people who have called it home since the time of Moses.

  • Truth

    Bull!

  • Truth

    Why can’t Israelis live in peace? Why are they constantly under attack? They don’t play around when they strike back and everyone says “look how bad they are”. Jews have been persecuted throughout history, more than any other people. Why is that?

  • Truth

    I have a copy of the Koran and I KNOW what it says. Muslims are killed by Israelis when Israel hits back after being attacked. You cannot find one instance of Israel attacking without first being provoked by terrorism. I question the validity of your “stats”.
    Why do you people on this post insist that Israel reaches out and attacks its neighbor without provocation? They are surrounded by Arabs. Why would the start the fight? Every Israeli action is preceded by some attack on them. Do the research.

  • Truth

    Sorry, but I disagree. Koran says Jews and Christians will go to heaven ONLY IF they follow Mohammed and accept Islam and Allah, not Yahweh, as their God. Otherwise, it is justified to kill them.

  • Truth

    And why do they bar nuclear inspectors from inspecting these facilities if they exist for “peaceful” purposes? What are they hiding, peaceful isotope development? No, they don’t want the world to see the truth, that they are developing nuclear weapons.

  • A.Rizvi

    Quote from Koran”AL- Baqarah Ayet 62.”Indeed the Faithful,the Jews the Christians,and the Sabaeans-those of them who have faith in Allah{God) and the last day and act righteously-they shall have their reward near their lord,and they will have no fear,nor they will grieve.” The reward in this world is bread & butter and after death is Haven. There are more Ayets and it is not a right place to go into details.

  • A.Rizvi

    Israel can not live in peace because they killed and dislodged millions of Muslim Palestinians and grab the land and called it
    Israel. This not a GODLY act.

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