Netanyahu at UN General Assembly Sept 2012
Netanyahu at UN General Assembly Sept 2012 Photo by Reuters
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Ten years before his “red line” speech at the United Nations last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared before the United States Congress and called for bringing down Saddam Hussein before he developed nuclear weapons.

“There is no question whatsoever that Saddam is seeking and is working and is advancing towards the development of nuclear weapons – no question whatsoever,” Netanyahu, then a private citizen, told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on September 12, 2002. “And there is no question that once he acquires it, history shifts immediately.”

A video clip from the 2002 hearing has been making the rounds of the Internet over the past few days, after it was posted by American blogger Jim Lobe at almost the same time as Netanyahu was addressing the United Nations General Assembly last week.

During last week’s speech, Netanyahu stressed that if Iran is not stopped, it will be on the verge of producing a nuclear weapon by next spring, or by summer at the latest. Therefore, Netanyahu argued, a red line must be drawn to stop the Iranian nuclear program.

Netanyahu’s remarks during the 2002 congressional hearing sounded very similar to his UN speech. The arguments are the same, the intonation is the same, even the advisers are the same – Netanyahu’s current diplomatic adviser, Ron Dermer, who wrote the prime minister’s UN address, can be seen in the 10-year-old video sitting behind Netanyahu in the congressional hall.

Aside from the fact that both Dermer and Netanyahu look 10 years younger, the primary difference between the two videos is one word: 2002’s Iraq has been replaced by Iran in 2012. Here are some more quotes:

“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.”

“Today the United States must destroy the same regime because a nuclear-armed Saddam will place the security of our entire world at risk. And make no mistake about it — if and once Saddam has nuclear weapons, the terror networks will have nuclear weapons.”

“Two decades ago, it was possible to thwart Saddam’s nuclear ambitions by bombing a single installation. But today, nothing less than dismantling his regime will do, because Saddam’s nuclear program has fundamentally changed in those two decades. He no longer needs one large reactor to produce the deadly material necessary for atomic bombs. He can produce it in centrifuges the size of washing machines that can be hidden throughout the country. And I want to remind you that Iraq is a very big country. It is not the size of Monte Carlo. It is a big country. And I believe that even free and unfettered inspections will not uncover these portable manufacturing sites of death.”

Six months after that congressional hearing, the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003 and overthrew Saddam’s regime. Then U.S. President George W. Bush justified the war by claiming that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and had to be prevented from using them. But despite extensive searches conducted all over Iraq, no evidence of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons or weapons development was ever found.

In the years following the invasion, there was heavy criticism of both Israel and of pro-Israel lobbyists in the U.S., who were accused of dragging America into the war with Iraq, which cost the lives of thousands of U.S. soldiers.

In recent months, similar allegations have been heard regarding Netanyahu’s exertion of pressure on U.S. President Barack Obama on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. Such criticism is being voiced by senior American commentators, as well as on blogs and in social media.

The fact that the 2002 video is going viral now is evidence that many in the United States – especially those identified with the Democratic Party – believe that in the same way Netanyahu pushed the Bush administration into a war against Iraq, he is trying today to press Obama to launch military action against Iran.

It certainly isn’t fair to suggest that the Iranian nuclear program, or its desire to acquire nuclear weapons, is the product of Netanyahu’s feverish imagination. One need only read the reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency to understand that Iran’s nuclear ambitions are real and a serious problem.

Still, it seems at times that Netanyahu has been using the Iranian issue as a hammer with which to browbeat both the U.S. administration and his domestic political rivals.