I don’t think we can rely too much on the National Intelligence Estimate report yesterday if we want to avoid nuclear war in future. The chances that President Ahmadinejad is telling the truth about not wanting a nuclear bomb – or at least a dirty bomb he can give to one of his client militias like Hizbullah or Hamas – are about the same as the chances that he is telling the truth when he says there are no homosexuals in Iran.
Ahmadinejad, however, was thrilled by the American intelligence report contents and the timing of its release. He told cheering crowds this afternoon that it was “Iran’s biggest victory in 100 years”.
Here are a few more realistic comments on it. Even the left-leaning mainstream media are not dismissing the incredibly serious Iranian nuclear threat too readily:
* “The Thin Line Between Civilian and Military Nuclear Programs” is the headline of William J. Broad’s piece in The New York Times
When is a nuclear program a nuclear weapons program? The open secret of the nuclear age is that the line between civilian and military programs is extraordinarily thin…
One threshold is enriched uranium. Enriched to low levels, uranium can fuel a reactor that produces electrical power – which is what Tehran says it wants to do. But if uranium is purified in spinning centrifuges long enough, and becomes highly enriched, it can fuel an atom bomb…
* “Relax? Don’t. Iran Can Still Build Its Bomb” writes Bronwen Maddox, foreign editor of The Times of London:
The newly published U.S. intelligence report supports fears that Iran could soon have nuclear weapons.
It argues that Iran has been deterred from pursuing them mainly by the fear of U.S. military action, a fear that has now faded… The report makes clear the seriousness of the threat, not the opposite…
And here are extracts from The Washington Post editorial:
… But there is bad news, too, which seems likely to be overlooked by those who have been resisting sanctions and other pressure on the mullahs all along, such as Russia, China and some members of the European Union. While U.S. intelligence agencies have “high confidence” that covert work on a bomb was suspended “for at least several years” after 2003, there is only “moderate confidence” that Tehran has not restarted the military program. Iran’s massive overt investment in uranium enrichment meanwhile proceeds in defiance of binding U.N. resolutions, even though Tehran has no legitimate use for enriched uranium. The U.S. estimate of when Iran might produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb – sometime between late 2009 and the middle of the next decade — hasn’t changed.
“Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons,” says the summary’s second sentence. Yet within hours of the report’s release, European diplomats and some U.S officials were saying that it could kill an arduous American effort to win support for a third U.N. Security Council resolution sanctioning Iran for failing to suspend uranium enrichment. It could also hinder separate U.S.-French efforts to create a new sanctions coalition outside the United Nations. In other words, the new report may have the effect of neutering the very strategy of pressure that it says might be effective if “intensified.”
So why was such a startling National Intelligence Estimate report released yesterday?
* “Was Bush Behind the Iran Report?” asks Robert Baer (who is a former CIA field officer) in TIME
Bombing Iran, it seems, is now off the table. There’s no other reasonable take on the latest National Intelligence Estimate that concludes Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. But there is also no doubt that the Bush White House was behind this NIE and that a 180-degree turn on Iran like this one was greenlighted by the president.
…. The real story behind this NIE is that the Bush Administration has finally concluded Iran is a bridge too far. With Iranian-backed Shi’a groups behaving themselves, things are looking up in Iraq.
… Then there are the Gulf Arabs. For the last year and a half, ever since the Bush Administration started to hint that it might hit Iran, they have been sending emissaries to Tehran to assure the Iranians they’re not going to help the U.S. But in private, the Gulf Arabs have been reminding Washington that Iran is a rabid dog: Don’t even think about kicking it, the Arabs tell us. If you have to do something, shoot it dead. Which is something the U.S. can’t do. So how far is Iran from a nuke? The truth is that Iran is a black hole, and it’s entirely conceivable Iran could build a bomb and we wouldn’t know until they tested it…
And Baer might have added: Then there is Israel, whose own intelligence services differ sharply with the NIE findings, believing that the Iranian nuclear threat is as grave as ever.
So perhaps the message coming out of the Bush White House is: Israel, you are on your own. And just like when you removed Saddam’s nuclear threat in 1981, don’t expect the American government to publicly back you up when you remove Iran’s.
The only problem here is that it is very unclear whether tiny Israel can successfully remove the Iranian nuclear threat by itself. So does Bush want to go down in history as the president who stood by while Iran moved at full steam ahead to build a nuclear bomb? Does Bush want to be remembered by historians as a Churchill, or as a Chamberlain?