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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bush disavows the NIE on Iran

Newsweek is reporting that during his talks here last week with Prime Minister Ehud K. Olmert, US President George W. Bush disavowed the US National National Intelligence Estimate on Iran that was released in November and that claimed that the Iranians are no longer pursuing nuclear weapons.
In public, President Bush has been careful to reassure Israel and other allies that he still sees Iran as a threat, while not disavowing his administration's recent National Intelligence Estimate. That NIE, made public Dec. 3, embarrassed the administration by concluding that Tehran had halted its weapons program in 2003, which seemed to undermine years of bellicose rhetoric from Bush and other senior officials about Iran's nuclear ambitions. But in private conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last week, the president all but disowned the document, said a senior administration official who accompanied Bush on his six-nation trip to the Mideast. "He told the Israelis that he can't control what the intelligence community says, but that [the NIE's] conclusions don't reflect his own views" about Iran's nuclear-weapons program, said the official, who would discuss intelligence matters only on the condition of anonymity.

Bush's behind-the-scenes assurances may help to quiet a rising chorus of voices inside Israel's defense community that are calling for unilateral military action against Iran. Olmert, asked by NEWSWEEK after Bush's departure on Friday whether he felt reassured, replied: "I am very happy." A source close to the Israeli leader said Bush first briefed Olmert about the intelligence estimate a week before it was published, during talks in Washington that preceded the Annapolis peace conference in November. According to the source, who also refused to be named discussing the issue, Bush told Olmert he was uncomfortable with the findings and seemed almost apologetic.
There are two issues here and the only way Bush can quell that 'rising chorus of voices' is to resolve one of those issues and see to the resolution of the other issue. The issue Bush can resolve is the view here that the NIE shut the door on US action against Iran. Most people here believe that the NIE took the US military option against Iran off the table. If there still is a military option that the United States is prepared to use in the event that - as seems almost inevitable - sanctions will fail, that will go a long way towards quelling the 'rising chorus of voices' for unilateral Israeli action. A second - not nearly as satisfactory scenario - would be for Bush to make it clear that the US will support or at least not hinder Israeli military action against Iran if and when that becomes necessary.

The second issue that Bush can help to resolve but cannot resolve himself is the lack of public confidence in Ehud Olmert and in particular the IDF's lack of confidence in Olmert. Yesterday, there was a nasty exchange in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee between Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak over Iran. Olmert suggested that 'all options were on the table' regarding Iran and Barak told him - in front of the committee - that he talks too much and he should keep his mouth shut. This is not Israeli politics as usual. This is Barak as Defense Minister and former Chief of Staff understanding that his job is representing the IDF's interests in the government. It reflects the IDF's unease with Olmert, particularly after last week's spat in which Olmert tried to blame the IDF for the debacle in Lebanon in the summer of 2006 and Barak had to defend the IDF again. If Israel had a true leader in whom the IDF had confidence, it would let the leader decide when and if and how to attack Iran, and not call for unilateral action against Iran. Olmert is not that leader and never will be.

How can Bush be helpful on the second issue? By keeping quiet and not trying to prop up the Olmert government. In particular, his pleas last week to Avigdor Lieberman and Eli Yishai to keep Olmert in power would have been out of place in any event (the interference in our domestic politics was inappropriate) and were most unhelpful, especially in light of the fact that the IDF would like Olmert to be gone. Bush has to realize that Israel needs a strong government to deal with Iran, even if that means that the false 'peace process' with the 'Palestinians' comes to an end.


At 9:18 AM, Blogger VinceP1974 said...

I can't stand all this mind-reading BS.

If he disavowed the NIE then why the hell did he let it leak anyway?

Why are the idiots who authored it still working for the government?

Why isn't he on American TV disavowing it?

(My anger is at Bush,not you)

At 3:41 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

At the end of day, the peace process will collapse because Israel alone will have to save herself. And that's more important than pleasing a President who will be gone from office in the next year.


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