They must be celebrating in Teheran. The American report claiming Iran froze its nuclear weapons development program in 2003 is a below-the-belt blow for the Israeli struggle on the international arena against Iranian nukes.
Officials in Israel were surprised on Tuesday. Not because of the report’s existence: The defense establishment is familiar with the thesis, developed by US intelligence bodies, regarding Iran being farther away from acquiring nuclear bombs than Israel estimates. This thesis emerges here and there during discussions held by Israeli and US intelligence agencies.
The Israeli surprise stems from the gaps in the information: Defense officials fail to understand where the Americans got the idea that Iran froze the nuclear weapons development process in 2003 and has not renewed it to this very day. The information available to Israeli and Western intelligence services shows that Iran, due to diplomatic pressures, indeed froze the process in 2003, but the same information shows that the efforts were renewed two years later and are continuing to this day.
Defense officials in Israel are making sure to refrain from openly disputing top US intelligence officials, but behind closed doors officials here are convinced that US intelligence bodies are simply getting it wrong with their assessments, both in terms of timetables as well as certain phases in the development of Iran’s military nuclear capabilities.
According to Western reports, the Iranians have faced various problems in the uranium enrichment process, and this indeed caused delays. Yet the Iranians were able to address some of the problems and moved forward. Israeli officials estimate that as early as 2009 Iran will possess military nuclear capabilities, assuming they face no other obstacles. The Americans think otherwise.
Officials here believe that the American report in fact takes into account quite a bit of data, including diplomatic pressures that lead to delays in the Iranian nuclear program. The report, Israeli officials say, is very cautious also because American intelligence agencies are still traumatized over the criticism leveled at them in the wake of the wrong assessment regarding Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
‘Israel, US agree on fundamental question’It is likely that some officials in the US State Department were also surprised: Up until Tuesday, the State Department thought that more aggressive pressure should be exerted on Iran to convince it to abandon its military nuclear project.
Israeli officials are concerned that the report may ease international pressure on Iran, because if we are talking about an Iranian bomb only in five to six years, and only on the assumption that the military project will be renewed, then there is no legitimacy for a military strike on Iran in the near future. So a military blow will be off the agenda.
Overall, Israel’s credibility when it comes to the anti-Iran campaign may be cracked. When we issue warnings in the future, we will be trusted less than before.
The defense establishment stresses that Israel will continue to stick to the truth and to the professional intelligence assessments it possesses. Even if there are gaps of information vis-à-vis the Americans, officials say, we agree on the fundamental question: The combination of the current Iranian regime and its determination to acquire nuclear weapons constitutes a threat to world peace.
A gap of four to five years between us and the Americans is not fundamental, because the way a country prepares for such threats is measured in years, rather than weeks or months. Israel has no intention to stop or slow down these preparations – but now we may have to do this a bit more alone.