Saturday, December 8, 2007

Disastrous Consequences of the NIE Report: Will the Fallout Prove Radioactive?

The National Intelligence Estimates (NIE) Report this week on Iran's nuclear weapons program defies credulity. While many analysts search for hidden messages and agendas, the damage has already been done. Efforts to undermine the toxic Iranian regime through sanctions were beginning to have some effect, with growing pressure on countries like Russia and China to participate. Now countries-and corporations-have a fig leaf to hide behind.
The report will only embolden Iran to aggressively pursue what it is undoubtedly already well on its way to accomplishing: developing the technological capability to produce nuclear power, which is then but a short step away from conversion to nuclear weapons.
For over a year, forceful arguments have warned against military actions to stop Iran. The given was that Iran was actively working to become a nuclear power. The question was how to stop this momentum, or whether the world could live with a nuclear Iran.
Ironically, those who hail the NIE report as supporting their belief that Iran's intentions are benign, and who are terrified by the prospect of a military response, choose to remain ignorant of how the report actually brings us closer to military confrontation.
If sanctions lose their teeth--and it is hard to see how that can now be avoided--and Iran's inexorable march toward nuclear capability proves successful, Israel, the country most immediately threatened by such a reality, may be forced to act decisively, powerfully, and likely alone. As Yossi Klein Halevi points out below, Israel could then easily be "branded a warmonger, and faulted for the inevitable fallout of rising oil prices and increased terror."
And when Ha'aretz, the most respected left-leaning daily in Israel, warns that the NIE report does nothing to mitigate Israel's real fears of a nuclear Iran who has threatened to "annihilate" Israel, the world should take heed. Below, more takes from Gerald Steinberg, Melanie Phillips, Avner Cohen, Alan Dershowitz, and others.
david brumer

An Insult to Intelligence: The Israeli Defense Community Responds to the NIE -
Yossi Klein Halevi (New Republic)
With the release of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, America, even under George Bush, is hardly likely to go to war to stop a nuclear weapons program many Americans now believe doesn't exist. The sense of betrayal within the Israeli security system is deep. After convincing the international community that the nuclear threat was real, now that has been undone by Israel's closest ally.
What makes Israeli security officials especially furious is that the report casts doubt on Iranian determination to attain nuclear weapons. There is a sense of incredulity. The Israeli strategists I heard from ridicule the report's contention that "Tehran's decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs."
For Israeli security analysts, the suspension in 2003 of Iran's covert nuclear military program - the NIE's defining issue - is hardly pivotal. The working assumption in Israeli intelligence is that the Iranians have resumed their covert military program. "The Syrians were working on their nuclear project for seven years, and we discovered it only recently," says one security analyst. "The Americans didn't know about it at all. So how can they be so sure about Iran?"
Shabtai Shavit, former head of the Mossad,
said: "My assessment is that, after they decided to aim for nuclear weapons, they advanced on three parallel tracks: enriching uranium, creating components for a bomb, and developing missiles. The missiles are ready for operation. As for enrichment, they have encountered all kinds of problems, like exploding centrifuges. I estimate that they made great progress, and very quickly, on the military track. Since they have problems with the uranium enrichment track, they can allow themselves to delay the military track, and wait for progress with uranium."
And if Shavit had written the report? "I would have based my assessment on the facts and said unequivocally that Iran is going to create the ability to make a bomb."
Until now, pessimists here could console themselves that a last-resort Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would likely draw wide international sympathy and even gratitude--very different from the near-total condemnation that greeted Israel's attack on Saddam's reactor in 1981. Now, though, the NIE will ensure that if Israel does attack, it will be widely branded a warmonger, and faulted for the inevitable fallout of rising oil prices and increased terror.
Ironically, an Israeli reading of the report only confirms the anxiety here, felt across the political spectrum, about Iranian intentions and capabilities. Responding to the NIE, the left-wing newspaper, Haaretz, sounds like a neo-con organ: "While Iran continues threatening to annihilate Israel, what American intelligence thinks about Iran's nuclear capability is irrelevant.... The report establishes that if Iran wants to produce a bomb it can do so, and if it doesn't want to, it won't. This evaluation may have a restraining effect in internal American politics. But in Israeli politics it should cause the opposite reaction."
Once the material is available, the final step toward constructing a bomb is the least complicated part of the process. "Today the Iranians are enriching uranium at four percent; to make a bomb, you need 90 percent. From there, the transition doesn't require a lot of time. Most of the work has been done to get to the four percent. It is a matter of months, not years."
That sense of urgency is evident in the highest ranks of the Israeli military. A recent letter circulated by Eliezer Shkedi, commander of the Israeli Air Force, to his officers offered a textual comparison between quotes from Hitler threatening Europe's Jews in the 1930s with quotes from Iranian President Ahmadinejad threatening Israel today. An accompanying letter, signed by an officer identified only as "responsible for the Iranian arena," noted laconically, "We can rely only on ourselves." With the release of the NIE, that old Israeli sentiment has become far more acute.
(Yossi Klein Halevi is a contributing editor of TNR and a senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem)

Israel Cannot Let Down Its Guard in the Face of Iranian Threats -(Ha'aretz Editorial)
While Iran continues threatening to annihilate Israel, what American intelligence thinks about Iran's nuclear capability is irrelevant. It is not fantasy or paranoia when we hear regular, concrete threats from Tehran. Therefore, the question of whether Iran obtains a nuclear capability to destroy Israel in two years or seven years is not important. While other nations can amuse themselves by mulling their economic interests with Iran, Israel is the only country that cannot let its guard down as long as the current Iranian regime is in power. The American intelligence report cannot justify a policy change or a calming down. The report establishes that if Iran wants to produce a bomb it can do so.

Stupid Intelligence- By Alan M. Dershowitz
The recent national intelligence estimate that concluded that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 is just about the stupidest intelligence assessment I have ever read. It falls hook, line and sinker for a transparent bait and switch tactic employed not only by Iran, but by several other nuclear powers in the past.
The tactic is obvious and well-known to all intelligence officials with an IQ above room temperature. It goes like this: There are two tracks to making nuclear weapons: One is to conduct research and develop technology directly related to military use. What every intelligence agency knows is that the most difficult part of developing weapons corresponds precisely to the second track, namely civilian use. In other words, it is relatively simple to move from track 2 to track 1 in a short period of time.
The authors of this perverse report, which is influencing policy so immediately and negatively, will have much to answer for if their assessment results in a reduction of pressure on Iran—which is the only nation actually to threaten to use nuclear weapons to attack its enemies—to stop its obvious march toward becoming the world’s most dangerous nuclear military power.

In Iran We Trust? - Valerie Lincy and Gary Milhollin (New York Times)
The latest National Intelligence Estimate contains the same sorts of flaws that we have learned to expect from our intelligence agency offerings. During the past year, a period when Iran's weapons program was supposedly halted, the government has been busy installing some 3,000 gas centrifuges at its plant at Natanz. These machines could, if operated continuously for about a year, create enough enriched uranium to provide fuel for a bomb. In addition, they have no plausible purpose in Iran's civilian nuclear effort. All of Iran's needs for enriched uranium for its energy programs are covered by a contract with Russia. Iran is also building a heavy water reactor at its research center at Arak. This reactor is ideal for producing plutonium for nuclear bombs, but is of little use in an energy program like Iran's, which does not use plutonium for reactor fuel. For years these expensive projects have been viewed as evidence of Iran's commitment to nuclear weapons. Why aren't they still? The answer is that the new report defines "nuclear weapons program" in a ludicrously narrow way: it confines it to enriching uranium at secret sites or working on a nuclear weapon design. Valerie Lincy is the editor of Gary Milhollin is the director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control.

The Flaws in the Iran Report - John R. Bolton
The headline finding - that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 - is written in a way that guarantees the totality of the conclusions will be misread. In fact, there is little substantive difference between the conclusions of the 2005 NIE on Iran's nuclear capabilities and the 2007 NIE. Moreover, the distinction between "military" and "civilian" programs is highly artificial, since the enrichment of uranium, which all agree Iran is continuing, is critical to civilian and military uses. Indeed, it has always been Iran's "civilian" program that posed the main risk of a nuclear "breakout." The real differences between the NIEs are not in the hard data but in the psychological assessment of the mullahs' motives and objectives. The 2007 NIE is internally contradictory and insufficiently supported. It implies that Iran is susceptible to diplomatic persuasion and pressure, yet the only event in 2003 that might have affected Iran was our invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. As undersecretary of state for arms control in 2003, I know we were nowhere near exerting any significant diplomatic pressure on Iran. (Washington Post)

Not the Best Intelligence - Avner Cohen
The release of the National Intelligence Estimate was a political miscalculation that has struck a fatal blow to the administration's diplomatic efforts to bring sanctions against Iran. The community of nuclear experts in Washington, including many of us who oppose military action against Iran, were shocked at the methodologically shallow, confusing and unprofessional way that many of the NIE's findings were formulated. Some believe that the intelligence officials, with Rice's assistance, have taken upon themselves the patriotic task of saving Bush from himself. The report notes that Iran suspended or halted the working groups building the bomb, but creates the false impression that this was the main component of Iran's nuclear weapons development program. The writer is a senior research fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington. (Ha'aretz)

Decoding the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's Nuclear Weapons Program -
Gerald M. Steinberg
The U.S. government's latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) has concluded that Iran froze its active efforts to manufacture nuclear weapons in 2003, and will not have such a capability until at least 2012. While the NIE states that the U.S. intelligence community has "high confidence" that the Iranians halted their nuclear weapons program in 2003, it also states that it has only "moderate confidence" that Tehran has not restarted the program. In contrast, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said that while it is "apparently true that in 2003, Iran stopped pursuing its military nuclear program for a certain period of time," nonetheless, he adds that "in our estimation, since then it is apparently continuing with its program to produce a nuclear weapon." Israeli analysts have long warned their U.S. counterparts about the potential for a parallel "black" Iranian weapons program, based on a small nuclear reactor producing plutonium, and following the North Korean model. Indeed, Iran is known to be constructing just such a reactor at Arak, leaving room for another undetected facility. (Institute for Contemporary Affairs/Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

Iran's Nuclear Program and the National Intelligence Estimate -
Interview with Senator Joe Lieberman (Federal News Service)
"The headline you just read shows the danger here, which is that people will reach a conclusion that all of our concern about Iran building nuclear weapons was misplaced, it's over, there's no problem. If you read this report, this intelligence report, you see that that's not true. It says very clearly Iran has both the capacity and intention to build a nuclear weapon." "And in fact, they are focused now on the first, most important thing that they need to do, which is to enrich uranium. So this is not cause for complacency. There's still a lot about what Iran is doing that should concern us and encourage us to keep the economic and diplomatic pressure on them."

Peres Warns: One Morning We'll Wake to a Nuclear Iran - Roni Sofer (Ynet News)
According to President Shimon Peres, historically, intelligence reports sometimes turn out to be inaccurate, but on the Iranian issue the international community must eschew compromise and focus on a few clear warning signs. Peres warned visiting former American Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that whenever Iran develops a successful civilian nuclear energy program, the transition to developing nuclear weapons will be quick and easy. Furthermore, Peres warned that it was impossible for any intelligence agency to know the exact nature and scope of the technological knowledge purchased from North Korea and Russia at high prices. "We are likely to wake up one morning and discover that comprehensive nuclear technology was passed on without interruption and is close to implementation," he said.

The Thousand Volt Farce - Melanie Phillips
How Iran is laughing. America has achieved the remarkable feat of dealing a terrible blow to all those fighting to defend civilization. It has actually strengthened Ahmadinejad, whose grip on power had been looking ever more fragile. But then the U.S. handed him a priceless gift in the form of the NIE report which says, in effect, that U.S. intelligence hasn't got a clue about the Iranian nuclear threat. We can all see from its ludicrously threadbare reasoning - much of it merely using guesswork to assess Iran's intentions, in the absence of reliable information on the ground - that intelligence of any sort is clearly in short supply in the U.S. security world. (Spectator-UK)


Lao Qiao said...

The danger of misinterpreting the NIE report is great, but at least many noted people have written intelligent comments about the problem. John Bolton's piece was published in the Washington Post, a major newspaper. Nevertheless, news from Iran is underreported. The December 7 issue of the Boston Globe had a headline about a 20-year old man who was hanged for allegedly raping 13-year-old boys when he too was 13. He denied the story; the boys retracted their original statements. The young man was hanged despite these retractions.
What does this have to do with the NIE? The connection is that the major news media are trying hard not to recognize just how crazy the Iranian government is. When a moderate, Rafsanjani, was president of Iran, he said in a sppech that when the world of Islam acquired nuclear weapons, Israel would be destroyed, and that no matter how severe the retaliation, Islam would survive. This story too got little publicity.
In 1944, the Nazis decided that transporting Jews to Auschwitz in the late days of the war was more important than supplying their besieged soldiers. Anti-Semitism was a more powerful idea than self-preservation. Anti-Zionism today is as strong among the Iranian leaders as anti-Semitism was in Nazi Germany. It too takes precedence over survival.

Anonymous said...

And what do you think of Obadiah Shoher's arguments against the peace process ( )?