(by Joshua Mitnick, Dec. 5, 2007, WashingtonTimes.com) – TEL AVIV – Israeli officials yesterday disputed the conclusions of Monday’s surprise U.S. assessment of Iran’s nuclear program, citing “clear and solid intelligence” that Iran is continuing to develop nuclear weapons to threaten Israel and Europe.
“We have no doubt,” said one Israeli official, who requested to remain anonymous. “If one looks at the investment, if one looks at the nature of the project, if you look at the cost to the Iranian economy, there is no logical explanation other than that the Iranian program is not benign.”
The intelligence assessment revealed a rare open rift between the intelligence communities of two allies, which have cooperated closely and share almost all their information about Iran’s nuclear program.
The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate [NIE] said that Iran froze its program to develop a nuclear weapon four years ago, while it continues to engage in uranium-enrichment activity.
In addition to virtually eliminating the possibility that the U.S. will attack Iran before the end of the Bush presidency, the estimate widens the gap between Israeli and U.S. estimates on the time remaining before Iran could achieve a nuclear weapon.
Israel still insists that there is as little as two years to stop Iran from going nuclear, while the new U.S. assessment finds that unlikely to happen before 2010 to 2015.
“Until now, there were no sharp differences in interpretation,” said Yuval Steinitz, a Likud Party legislator who sits on the parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
“I don’t know of any piece of intelligence that supports this conclusion. It seems to me that this report repeats the mistake of Iraq, but taking it to the opposite conclusion.
“We have a lot of very clear and solid intelligence, that to my best understanding, clearly shows that the Iranians are developing nuclear weapons today, as they did two years ago. This is not a matter of speculation, but this is about solid intelligence.”
Defense Minister Ehud Barak was only slightly less definite in published interviews yesterday.
“It looks like Iran stopped its program to create an atom bomb in 2003 for a certain time, but as far as we know, it has since probably renewed it,” he was quoted as saying. “There are differences in the assessments of different organizations in the world about this, and only time will tell who is right.”
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told reporters that Israel “will make every effort – first and foremost with our friends in the U.S. – to prevent the production” of nuclear weapons by Iran.
Although Israeli and U.S. intelligence agencies share most of their data regarding the Iranian threat, it is possible that Israel has some exclusive information.
“Just because we are friends doesn’t mean we are going to share everything,” said Meir Javedanfar, a Tel Aviv-based analyst who co-authored a book on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the nuclear program titled “The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran.”
Israelis were uncertain whether to be relieved at the distancing of an existential threat or to be concerned that readiness to confront that threat has been dissipated, perhaps for good.
A leading Israeli analyst, Ehud Ya’ari, said on Channel 2 television that the American finding showed that the Iranian program “is further behind than we assumed.”
Washington, he said, had rejected Israel’s belief that the Iranians are pursuing one or two secret nuclear programs that are not monitored by the West.
“The Americans apparently came to their conclusions on the basis of human intelligence,” he said, mentioning Gen. Ali Reza Asghari, a former Iranian deputy defense minister who defected to the West in February.
Oded Granot, a commentator on Channel 1, who, like Mr. Ya’ari, has good connections with Israel’s security establishment, said American intelligence had intercepted a transmission from a senior Iranian military official several months ago, in which he expressed disappointment that Iran’s nuclear weapons program had been halted.
Although this might have been deliberate misinformation, Mr. Granot said that in recent weeks a flood of other evidence pointed to the program’s being frozen.
Mr. Granot said Israel has learned that many of the 3,000 centrifuges that the Iranians had begun to activate in order to enrich uranium – whether for civilian or military purposes – have broken down.
Copyright 2007 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times. This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization. Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com.
1. The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report, which was released this week, made what conclusion about Iran’s nuclear activity?
2. a) Define benign as used in para. 2.
b) In response to the NIE report, list the reasons an anonymous Israeli official does not believe that the Iranian nuclear weapons program is benign.
3. How does the NIE affect U.S. and Israeli estimates on when Iran could successfully develop a nuclear weapon?
4. a) Who is Yuval Steinitz?
b) Why does Mr. Steinitz believe the Iranians are continuing their program to develop nuclear weapons?
5. What did Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak say about the possibility of Iran stopping its program to develop nuclear weapons?
6. What explanations are offered by Ehud Ya’an and Oded Granot about why the NIE could have concluded (inaccurately) that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons?
7. What do you think – has Iran ended its nuclear weapons program? Explain your answer.
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