4. Rhetoric escalates against 'axis of evil': 1998-2002
But Iran was putting the pieces of its strategic puzzle together. A US spy satellite detected the launch of an Iranian medium-range missile, sparking speculation about the danger posed to Israel.
1998: The New York Times said that Israel was less safe as a result of the launch even though Israel alone in the Middle East possessed both nuclear weapons and the long-range missiles to drop them anywhere. "The major reaction to this is going to be from Israel, and we have to worry what action the Israelis will take," the Times quoted a former intelligence official as saying. An unidentified expert said: "This test shows Iran is bent on acquiring nuclear weapons, because no one builds an 800-mile missile to deliver conventional warheads."
1998: The same week, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld reports to Congress that Iran could build an intercontinental ballistic missile – one that could hit the US – within five years. The CIA gave a timeframe of 12 years.
2002: CIA warns that the danger from nuclear-tipped missiles, especially from Iran and North Korea, is higher than during the cold war. Robert Walpole, then a top CIA officer for strategic and nuclear programs, tells a Senate panel that Iran's missile capability had grown more quickly than expected in the previous two years – putting it on par with North Korea. The threat "will continue to grow as the capabilities of potential adversaries mature," he says.
2002: President George W. Bush labels Iran as part of the "axis of evil," along with Iraq and North Korea.