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Israeli Analysts Refute U.S. National Intelligence Estimate That Iran Suspended Its Nuclear Weapons Program in 2003

'Only A Blind Man Could Conclude Such a Thing'

Iranian Nuclear Reactor

Israel and most Arab states in the Middle East are baffled and bewildered by the latest U.S, intelligence estimate that Iran suspended its nuclear weapons drive in 2003. In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is set to convene the defense and foreign affairs establishment to reassess what could be a change for the worse in Israel's security situation. Threatened with destruction by Iranian President Ahmadinejad, the Jewish state has been hoping that the international campaign of sanctions might dissuade Tehran to halt its uranium enrichment program which is the very heart of a nuclear weapon. While Israeli leaders have not directly criticized the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, Israeli analysts charge that its assessment of Iran is flawed by a built - in contradiction. The Israeli assessment is that Iran, if not stopped, could acquire the bomb in 2009.

MK Prof. Ben-Israel

How has the U.S. intelligence community managed to vindicate Iran and it's nuclear weapons program at this critical stage of the American led diplomatic campaign to prevent this Middle East nightmare? This is the question that has set shock waves through Israel and those Arab states which fear a nuclear armed Iran no less than does the Jewish state. In Tehran, President Ahmadinejad and his Islamist followers have been celebrating. Addressing the cheering crowd, Ahmadinejad vowed to continue his uranium enrichment program that the experts say is the key component in building the bomb! This is why Israeli analysts are baffled by the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate. These are the uncontested facts according to Knesset Member Itzhak Ben Yisrael, a professor of strategic studies, who is an I.D.F. Maj. - Gen. (res.):

1. Producing weapons grade uranium or plutonium is the most complex process in developing the bomb. President Ahmadinejad boasts that Iran is now producing enriched uranium with 3,000 centrifuges and plans on activating thousands more. This process, if successful, will provide Tehran with enough nuclear "fuel" to produce nuclear weapons. The N.I.E. does not dispute this.

2. Once the enrichment process is complete comes the converting of the nuclear weapons grade uranium into an actual bomb or warhead. This technical aspect is simply a matter of time. In fact, it is possible that Iran has or could purchase this technology from such states as North Korea or Pakistan. The N.I.E. has now disclosed that Iran suspended its "weaponization unit" four years ago. It then leaps to the full blown conclusion that this indicates Iran has suspended its nuclear weapons program.
However, it is conceivable the Iranians could have halted this high profile but secondary weaponization phase while they proceed full steam ahead in uranium enrichment. (Iranian affairs analyst, Menashe Amir, adds that Iran's nuclear weapons program is being conducted under strict control of the fanatic Revolutionary Guards in super- secret installations.)

3. Moreover, Iran recently announced it has developed a new ballistic missile with a range of 2,000 kilometers that could obviously provide a delivery system for targets not only in Israel but also in Europe. What explanation is there for the enrichment program to produce weapons-grade uranium which is not required for peaceful nuclear development? This by a "rogue state" which exports terrorism worldwide and threatens its Muslim neighbors in the "Persian" Gulf and the Middle East. The Israeli assessment sees a basic built-in contradiction in the N.I.E. that acknowledges that Iran continues its enrichment program, but because it suspended its weaponization unit in 2003 it has halted its nuclear weapons program. In the words of Menashe Amir: "Only a blind man would conclude that Iran has halted its nuclear weapons program". The Israeli estimate is that Iran could acquire the bomb in 2009. Therefore the current sanctions campaign has entered its critical stage. It follows that the N.I.E. has pulled the rug out from under this international effort which is being led by the U.S. itself!

What appears to have gone haywire in Washington? Perhaps the most reasonable explanation can be found in former C.I.A. director George Tenet's autobiography "At the Center of the Storm". Tenet rebuts the conventional wisdom that the C.I.A. and the U.S. intelligence community bear the brunt of responsibility for leading the U.S. into Iraq. He rejects this out of hand and protests the C.I.A. being made the "fall guy" by Bush administration officials. One gets the impression that Tenet regrets not having taken a clear stand during his C.I.A. tenure. It could be that the N.I.E. have also rebelled by issuing an assessment that will clear them of blame for any future operations against Iran. In other words - 'Once bitten, twice shy'.

Intelligence services the world over are called upon by their political masters to identify not only the enemy's capabilities but also his intentions. (This was the case for Israel in the Yom-Kippur war of 1973 when the looming Egyptian and Syrian military capabilities were visible for all to see. However, Israeli intelligence experts told the political leadership that the Arab armies would not attack, and the rest is history.) In the case of Iraq, the U.S. was convinced that Sadam Hussen's intentions were to develop weapons of mass destruction, although there was no intelligence proof of this capability. It is conceivable that after the Iraqi experience the pendulum has swung the other way for the U.S. intelligence community. The N.I.E. grasps the suspension of one Iranian capability as its "smoking gun" for Iran killing its nuclear weapons program. But surely this conclusion flies in the face of Iran's other capabilities while Ahmadinejad displays his agressive intentions in words and deeds.

Taking every opportunity to declare that Israel should be wiped off the map, the Jewish state has come to view Ahmadinejad as a walking casus belli. In the wake of the N.I.E., many Israelis are asking if the Jewish state is now on its own after the N.I. E. dealt a severe blow to the diplomatic effort to halt a nuclear Iran. This will be on the mind of many during the upcoming visit of U.S. President George W. Bush.

By declaring that Iran was, is and will be a danger Bush has appeared to distance himself from the N.I.E. assessment as have some other world leaders such as French President Nicolas Sarkozy have renewed their support for stiffer sanctions against Iran. However, a key player such as Russia has exploited the N.I.E. to back off on tougher sanctions.

David Essing

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