So an ex Israeli intelligence official has claimed that Iran will get nuclear weapons in 12 months. Yawn.
Before people get all worked up over this, I guess I should remind you - yet again - that such dire warnings have been issued on a monthly basis for over 20 years now:
“The Iranians may have an atom bomb within two years, the authoritative Jane’s Defence Weekly warned.” That was in 1984, more than two decades ago. Four years later, the world was again put on notice, this time by Iraq, that Tehran was at the nuclear threshold, and in 1992 the CIA foresaw atomic arms in Iranian hands by 2000. Then U.S. officials pushed that back to 2003. And in 1997 the Israelis confidently predicted a new date - 2005. [“Ever a ‘threat,’ never an atomic power: Iran points up challenges of nuclear technology,” Charles Hanley, The Associated Press, Monday, February 27, 2006]
Late 1991: “In congressional reports and CIA assessments, the United States estimates that there is a ‘high degree of certainty that the government of Iran has acquired all or virtually all of the components required for the construction of two to three nuclear weapons.’” A February 1992 report by the U.S. House of Representatives suggests that these two or three nuclear weapons “will be operational between February and April 1992.”
February 24, 1993: “CIA director James Woolsey says that Iran is still 8 to 10 years away from being able to produce its own nuclear weapon, but with assistance from abroad it could become a nuclear power earlier.”
January 1995: “The director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, John Holum, testifies that Iran could have the bomb by 2003.”
January 5, 1995: “U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry says that Iran may be less than five years from building an atomic bomb, although ‘how soon…depends how they go about getting it.’”
April 29, 1996: “Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres says ‘he believes that in four years, they [Iran] may reach nuclear weapons.’”
October 21, 1998: “General Anthony Zinni, head of U.S. Central Command, says Iran could have the capacity to deliver nuclear weapons within five years. ‘If I were a betting man,’ he said, ‘I would say they are on track within five years, they would have the capability.’”
January 17, 2000: “A new CIA assessment on Iran’s nuclear capabilities says that the CIA cannot rule out the possibility that Iran may possess nuclear weapons. The assessment is based on the CIA’s admission that it cannot monitor Iran’s nuclear activities with any precision and hence cannot exclude the prospect that Iran may have nuclear weapons.” [Bad Intelligence–But in Which Direction? Cato @ Liberty - The official Cato Institute blog., by Cordesman and al-Rodhan]
These sorts of predictions about how Iran is on the cusp of making nukes are so common that The Onion, a satirical newspaper, published a funny article about how Iran is less than 10 years away from 2016. This funny fake quote from Gates is a good for a laugh:
“‘Every day they get one day closer,’ Defense Secretary Robert Gates said during a White House press conference Tuesday. ‘At the rate they're going, they will reach 2016 at the same time as the United States—and given their geographic position relative to the international date line, possibly even sooner.’”
And every time these sorts of predictions come out, people like certain bloggers get all excited and declare that the sky is about to fall down. So instead of tediously acting as the voice of reason and warning you lot yet again that the Israelis issue these predictions like clockwork regardless of the facts, I wanted to explore this question too:
Why do people fall for such lies so easily?
A lot of it is of course purely political. The Israelis have means to get their scaremongering amplified by using friendly mouthpieces to act as their propaganda surrogates, just as the US Defense Department uses the US media to do the same thing. Portraying Iran as diligently working on nukes (never mind the absence of evidence) and seeking to "wipe off Israel" etc., etc., is politically useful for Israel. It not only re-enforces the image of Israel as the perpetual underdog and victim, but it also helps prevent a US-Iran rapprochement.
Keeping an atmosphere of hype and threat around the Iran makes it harder for the US and Iran to sit together at a real diplomatic negotiation table, and ensuring that Iran and the US are kept as far apart is, after all, Israel's real goal (and oh, incidentally, Israel isn't threatening to bomb Iran - Israel is threatening to bomb YOUR economic well-being by putting a firecracker in the world's gas can.)
Anyway, if you want to know why people fall for such lies so easily, out of a curious coincidence, the New York Times has an article which touches on this precise issue: [“Your Brain Lies to You,” Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt, The New York Times, June 27, 2008]
This phenomenon, known as source amnesia, can also lead people to forget whether a statement is true. Even when a lie is presented with a disclaimer, people often later remember it as true. With time, this misremembering only gets worse. A false statement from a non-credible source that is at first not believed can gain credibility during the months it takes to reprocess memories...
This sounds like a biological explanation for something that psychologists and marketing specialists have known for a long time, except rather than calling it source amnesia they call it the "Truth Effect":
Repetition increases our familiarity with a claim. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, a feeling of greater evidence that the claim is true begins to accompany the growing familiarity. This effect of repetition is known as the "truth effect." (Max Sutherland, Advertising and the Mind of the Consumer - available on Amazon)
So in short, we tend to confuse familiarity with truthfulness. A claim that is repeated often becomes familiar, and since it is familiar, we tend to believe it. This is particularly true, ironically, the less attention we actually pay to the claim. If you paid attention, you might actually notice the falsehoods, after all. And this is convenient since we in the US don't like to think and instead we just like to consume and be distracted with mass entertainment - and let other people tell us who to fear, hate, love, etc. We're fat & lazy.