Thomas Lippman and Juan Cole look at this question in Don't exaggerate Iranian threat Newark Star-Ledger 05/19/06.
They emphasize that Iranian President Ahmadinejad - who I heard Newt Gingrich on TV a few days ago call Iran's "dictator" - actually has relatively limited power over Iranian foreign and military policy.
And they remind us that Iran presents no "existential" threat to Israel, literally that Iran is not in a position to threat Israel's existence:
Iran is a weak, developing country with an annual per capita income about one-eighth that of Israel. Iran has a much larger population, but its advantage in manpower is roughly similar to that which Egypt had in 1967. Israel is a rich, sophisticated first-world coun try with an extremely powerful military and a highly advanced technology sector.
Israel's air force is probably the best in the world and can fly more missions in the same time than can the U.S. Air Force. Iran, in contrast, has a small, poorly trained air force with obsolescent equipment that would be instantly devastated in any encounter with Israel's. And it strains credulity to imagine that Iran could attack Israel overland or from the sea unless everyone in the Israeli military went to sleep for weeks and failed to notice the movements of troops or ships. No credible Iranian force could get within striking distance. (my emphasis)
They argue in the form of rhetorical questions that even an immediate prospect of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons would not justify preventive war against it:
Even if we assume that some people in Iran would then truly plan and intend to fire those warheads at Israel, are we also to as sume that the entire Iranian leadership - military, political and clerical - would acquiesce in such a plan? And are we to assume that these people in the leadership, whoever they may be five years or a decade from now, are collectively insane and suicidal, in ways that Stalin and Khrushchev never were? Are we to believe that they would initiate a nuclear catastrophe, a step no other nation has taken in the 60 years of the nuclear era? Do we think Iran is unaware that Israel has nuclear weapons and multiple means of delivering them? Do we believe the Iranians are prepared to shrug that off and plunge ahead to their own doom? Do we think the people and leaders of Iran are willing to give this whole new meaning to the term "suicide bomber"?
Cole notes at his blog of 05/20/06 that they intended to modify the wording of one paragraph, which doesn't make it clear that, as Cole argues, Ahmadinejad's alleged threat to "wipe Israel off the map" is actually a bad translation. Is that where we still are, even after the massive exposures of the pre-Iraq War frauds? Making foreign policy by bad translations?
Then there's the old standard used for the Iraq War: just making stuff up. In that same blog post, Cole writes about the phony report from last week alleging that the Iranian Parliament had just passed Nazi-Germany-type legislation requiring non-Muslims to wear identifying clothing similar to the yellow stars Hitler Germany required Jews to wear. He points out the propaganda methodology involved:
Maurice Motamed, the representative of the Iranian Jewish community in Iran's parliament, has strongly denied the rumors started by Canada's National Post that the Iranian legislature has passed a law requiring members of religious communities to wear identifying badges.
The report was also denied on Montreal radio by Meir Javedanfar, Middle East Analyst and the Director for the Middle East Economic and Political Analysis Company.
The National Post was founded by Conrad Black and has been owned by CanWest since 2003, is not a repository of expertise about Iran. It is typical of black psychological operations campaigns that they begin with a plant in an out of the way newspaper that is then picked up by the mainstream press. Once the Jerusalem Post picks it up, then reporters can source it there, even though the Post has done no original reporting and has just depended on the National Post article, which is extremely vague in its own sourcing (to "human rights groups").
American law, which Bush claims the right to disregard at his own discretion, forbids the federal government to make propagandaaimed at the American people. But the Pentagon is funding Iranian exile groups to promote war against Iran. They can manufacture stories and plant them in foreign papers, which then get picked up in the US in the manner Cole describes without technically breaking the law.
In his blog, Cole also gives an example of how the mainstream media gets suckered, out of laziness or carelessness or some kind of corruption, into using a story like the "wipe Israel off the map" one:
This affair [about the clothing regulations] is similar to the attribution to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of the statement that "Israel must be wiped off the map." No such idiom exists in Persian, and Ahmadinejad actually just quoted an old speech of Khomeini in which he said "The occupation regime over Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time." Of course Ahamdinejad does wish Israel would disappear, but he is not commander of the armed forces and could not attack it even if he wanted to, which he denies.
I had a very disturbing short email correspondence with a reporter of a major national newspaper who used the inaccurate "wiped off the face of the map" quote. When challenged, he said it was "carried by the news wires and is well known" or words to that effect. I pointed out that the "quote" was attributed to a specific speech and that the statement was inaccurately translated. When challenged further he alleged that his trusted translator in Tehran affirmed that Ahmadinejad had said the phrase. When that was challenged, he reported that the translator said that anyway he had said something like it. When I pointed out that the translator was either lying or lazy, the reporter took offense that I had insulted a trusted colleague! I conclude that this reporter is attached to the phrase. He complained about being challenged by "bloggers" and said he was tempted to stop reading "blogs."
So this is how we got mire in the Iraq morass. Gullible and frankly lazy and very possibly highly biased reporters on the staffs of the newspapers in Washington DC and New York. And they criticize bloggers.
This is how we go to war under the Bush Doctrine.