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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Most of official Israel challenges NIE on Iran

Most of official Israel is challenging the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran that was released yesterday and that claims that Iran suspended its program in 2003.
Israeli officials yesterday disputed the conclusions of Monday's surprise U.S. assessment of Iran's nuclear program, citing "clear and solid intelligence" that Iran is continuing to develop nuclear weapons to threaten Israel and Europe.

"We have no doubt," said one Israeli official, who requested to remain anonymous. "If one looks at the investment, if one looks at the nature of the project, if you look at the cost to the Iranian economy, there is no logical explanation other than that the Iranian program is not benign."

The intelligence assessment revealed a rare open rift between the intelligence communities of two allies, which have cooperated closely and share almost all their information about Iran's nuclear program.


"Until now, there were no sharp differences in interpretation," said Yuval Steinitz, a Likud Party legislator who sits on the parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

"I don't know of any piece of intelligence that supports this conclusion. It seems to me that this report repeats the mistake of Iraq, but taking it to the opposite conclusion.

"We have a lot of very clear and solid intelligence, that to my best understanding, clearly shows that the Iranians are developing nuclear weapons today, as they did two years ago. This is not a matter of speculation, but this is about solid intelligence."

Defense Minister Ehud Barak was only slightly less definite in published interviews yesterday.

"It looks like Iran stopped its program to create an atom bomb in 2003 for a certain time, but as far as we know, it has since probably renewed it," he was quoted as saying. "There are differences in the assessments of different organizations in the world about this, and only time will tell who is right."

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told reporters that Israel "will make every effort — first and foremost with our friends in the U.S. — to prevent the production" of nuclear weapons by Iran.

Although Israeli and U.S. intelligence agencies share most of their data regarding the Iranian threat, it is possible that Israel has some exclusive information.

"Just because we are friends doesn't mean we are going to share everything," said Meir Javedanfar, a Tel Aviv-based analyst who co-authored a book on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the nuclear program titled "The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran."

Israelis were uncertain whether to be relieved at the distancing of an existential threat or to be concerned that readiness to confront that threat has been dissipated, perhaps for good.
Israel's mainstream media is ready to buy into the NIE completely. Surprisingly, that includes Ehud Yaari, who may be the biggest Arab affairs expert in the broadcast media:
A leading Israeli analyst, Ehud Ya'ari, said on Channel 2 television that the American finding showed that the Iranian program "is further behind than we assumed."

Washington, he said, had rejected Israel's belief that the Iranians are pursuing one or two secret nuclear programs that are not monitored by the West.

"The Americans apparently came to their conclusions on the basis of human intelligence," he said, mentioning Gen. Ali Reza Asghari, a former Iranian deputy defense minister who defected to the West in February.

Oded Granot, a commentator on Channel 1, who, like Mr. Ya'ari, has good connections with Israel's security establishment, said American intelligence had intercepted a transmission from a senior Iranian military official several months ago, in which he expressed disappointment that Iran's nuclear weapons program had been halted.

Although this might have been deliberate misinformation, Mr. Granot said that in recent weeks a flood of other evidence pointed to the program's being frozen.

Mr. Granot said Israel has learned that many of the 3,000 centrifuges that the Iranians had begun to activate in order to enrich uranium — whether for civilian or military purposes — have broken down.
I find it hard to believe that the centrifuges broke down. That's ridiculous! Deliberate misinformation sounds more likely. While it's somewhat reassuring to see that President Bush isn't abandoning the struggle against Iran so quickly, I have to wonder whether anyone in Washington is behind him.

Over at Powerline, Scott has an interesting take from Mark Falcoff, a former staffer of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee:

The first is that most Americans don't understand that the CIA is divided into two different divisions--estimates and operations. Most Americans, and I suppose most foreigners, imagine that the CIA spends all its time on operations. Actually the vast majority of resources are put into estimates. Mover, the two sides of the house, as they call it, have nothing whatever to do with each other. They are kept completely apart.

The other misconception is that the same kinds of people work on both sides of the house. Wrong again. The operations guys conform pretty much to the stereotype of Hollywood films--ex-military or professional spooks. The estimates guys are mostly academic types who couldn't find a job teaching at a university when they got their Ph.D. Politically and culturally they are absolutely indistinguishable from the career people at the State Department. You can imagine what that means in the present context of Bush-hatred.

My other comment is this. NIE's are not necessary accurate. Sometimes they are wildly inaccurate. I invite anyone to go to "Foreign Relations of the United States: Cuba, 1958-1960" and read what was said about Fidel Castro before he took power. Another example: a week before Somoza collapsed in Nicaragua, the NIE of the day claimed he was bound to remain in power indefinitely. I haven't looked at the NIE for Iran the week before the Shah departed, but I wouldn't be a bit surprised if it said something similar.

Let me add a further note. In 1986 I was working for the Kissinger Commission on Central America and as such I was allowed to see the NIEs on all the relevant countries in the circum-Caribbean. I vividly recall the one on Mexico. Among other things it claimed that the foreign minister of that country was an embittered leftist married to a Soviet citizen. As it happens, I knew the son of the couple (he has since become foreign minister of Mexico in his own right) and I knew for a fact that his mother was not a Soviet citizen. Far from it. She was a nice Jewish lady who lived in New York and grew up in Brooklyn. It is, I suppose, possible that she was brought to the US in the 1920s from the Soviet Union--at age 3. But there is a crucial difference between that and what was in the NIE. The implications for our foreign policy were very different. At the time I wondered, Who checks this things out? I still wonder.

Let me add that with one signal exception--a report on Mexico prepared for President Clinton before he made his state visit there--I have never seen a piece of analysis by the CIA that could not have been written by a bright high school student. And this is what we spend billions of dollars on every year.

Maybe Iran has stopped working on its nuclear project. Maybe the CIA has got it right. After all, every once in a while a blind pig manages to find a truffle. But I wouldn't bet the ranch on it.

Scott has a lot more on this story too so make sure to check it out.


At 3:05 AM, Blogger bernie said...

Just FYI, I linked to your article from Liberals must Push for Attack against Iran

At 12:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And what do you think of the very popular view by a leading Israeli analyst Obadiah Shoher? He argues (here, for example, www. samsonblinded.org/blog/america-arranges-a-peace-deal-with-iran.htm ) that the Bush Administration made a deal with Iran: nuclear program in exchange for curtailing the Iranian support for Iraqi terrorists. His story seems plausible, isn't it?


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