In an article in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, Ronen Bergman, the well-informed intelligence correspondent for the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot, outlines some of the “successes” the Israeli intelligence service, the Mossad, has already had in slowing down the Iranian nuclear program. (I have alluded to some of these on my own website over recent years.)
These include a series of apparent accidents: the disappearance of an Iranian nuclear scientist, the crash of two planes carrying cargo relating to the nuclear project; two labs that burst into flames; and the mysterious accident in July 2007 at the Al-Safir missile factory jointly operated by Iran and Syria.
The Mossad has greatly improved its operational successes since then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon appointed his friend and former military colleague Meir Dagan to head the organization in 2002.
“The Mossad has stunning achievements to its credit, yet the mullahs remain a threat,” notes Bergman, correctly.
Most of the Mossad’s achievements remain a secret. But it is unlikely that Bergman’s piece would have appeared in a major American newspaper at this time, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flies to Washington for his crucial talks with President Obama on Monday, and in this form, without the approval of Bergman’s contacts in Israeli intelligence.
In addition to alerting people outside Israel, Bergman’s piece may well have the Israeli leadership in mind. In this respect it performs a similar function to a recent article in Ha’aretz by that paper’s intelligence correspondent Yossi Melman (who also has excellent contacts in Israeli intelligence). Both pieces serve as a warning from the Israeli intelligence community to Prime Minister Netanyahu, urging him not to give in to Obama’s pressure and back away from taking decisive action on the Iranian issue.
“The Israeli intelligence community,” says Bergman, “has penetrated enemies like Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Hezbollah and Hamas. Yet despite former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s willingness to authorize highly dangerous operations based on this intelligence, and despite the unquestionable success of the operations themselves, the overall security picture remains as grim as ever.”
“The bottom line is that excellent intelligence is very important, but it can only take you so far. In the end, it’s the tough diplomatic and military decisions made by Israeli leaders that ensure the security of the state.”
Israel is increasingly worried by the Obama administration’s stance on this issue. The government is concerned that President Barack Obama and his CIA chief Leon Panetta are underestimating its urgency and importance, and that some in Washington have already reconciled themselves to living with a nuclear Iran. On many occasions in the past, CIA analyses have been wrong, and the agency has failed to predict epoch-changing events, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 9/11 attacks. Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would be an epoch-changing event of possibly even greater consequence.
IAEA CHIEF: MIDEAST IS A “TICKING BOMB”
In an interview last week with Britain’s Guardian newspaper, Mohamed El Baradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), warned that between 10 and 20 countries will likely soon have the ability to construct nuclear weapons unless major powers intervene soon.
“This is the phenomenon we see now and what people worry about concerning Iran. And this phenomenon goes much beyond Iran,” El Baradei said.
Addressing the Middle East situation in particular, he described nuclear proliferation as a “ticking bomb”. The production of weapons-grade fissile material must be banned, he added.
El Baradei has presided over the IAEA for more than 11 years and is due to retire in November at the age of 67. A bitter diplomatic battle is under way over his successor.
El Baradei also predicted that the next wave of proliferation would involve “virtual nuclear weapons states,” who can produce plutonium or highly enriched uranium and possess the know-how to make warheads, but who stop just short of assembling a weapon. They would therefore remain technically compliant with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty while being within a couple of months of deploying and using a nuclear weapon at any time they wish to do so.