Friday, December 7, 2007

U.S. policy on Iran: Confusion to our friends!

By Ami Isseroff - 05-12-2007


The latest US National Intelligence Estimate on the Iranian Nuclear program claims that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons development program in 2003. One conclusion to be drawn from this information is that the problem is not urgent.

Indeed, China has already drawn just that conclusion, and is reevaluating its support for sanctions against Iran. One can hardly blame them.

The report claims with "high confidence" that Iran has halted work on nuclear weapons. Notably missing from the public summary of the report is any mention of the Arak heavy water reactor that can produce fissionable plutonium. As UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband pointed out, the report also does not explain what Iran intends to do with all the fissile uranium to be produced by its centrifuges, since they have no reactor except the Bushehr reactor, supplied with fuel by the USSR. The NIE was completed on October 31, before the IAEA report which had pointed out continuing gaps in Iranian reporting of its nuclear program and cooperation with the IAEA and before the row caused by Iran's renewed refusal to cooperate with European negotiators. These additional data may imply that Iran really is intent on building a bomb, or they may just be posturing like that of Saddam Hussein over Iraqi WMD. Shouldn't the NIS have reviewed their data and conclusions in the light of this new information?

In 2005, the National Intelligence Estimate claimed with the same high confidence, that Iran was developing nuclear weapons. Dare we suggest that the confidence is misplaced. The report also claims the gift of prophecy, since it assesses with moderate confidence that Iran is not going to develop nuclear weapons in the future. Who can know the future? We can, apparently, discount all the prognostications of the NIS (National Intelligence Service) as uneducated guesses. What is known for certain is that Iran is enriching uranium on a large scale for no evident reason, is withholding information from the IAEA, built a reactor capable of producing fissile m

As I wrote elsewhere, the worst aspect of the National Intelligence Estimate, however, is not the report itself, but the way in which the information was handled, and the more we consider it, the worse it gets.

As the Washington Post points out, President Bush was aware of the substance of the findings for quite some time, yet US policy statements on Iran continued to sound extreme and urgent danger signals on Iran, and to gather support for sanctions against Iran, knowing that this report was to be made public shortly. And when the report came out, President Bush minimized it and provided half-coherent spin, as though he was unaware of the actual implications or how it would be understood by others.

Some claim that the report represents an intentional administration change of direction, but that is not necessarily the case. It seems that it represents only noisy signals emitted by a chaotic governmental apparatus.

The NIS was created as a coordinating agency to ensure the flow of information between different governmental intelligence services in the United States. This function appeared to be necessary following the intelligence failures of 9-11 and the failure to find Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. But when Congress mandated that the NIS prepare a report (in Public Law 109-364) it in effect forced the NIS to do more than that - to reach a consensus opinion that ignores dissent and presents "the official version" to elected officials, without given them a chance to see the different opinions of different agencies. Worse, this report was then reduced to a sanitized public version, which was recommended, but not mandated by law. The NIS was thus in effect turned into an agency for forming foreign policy.

The implications for Israel and other allies of the United States go well beyond the National Intelligence Estimate and the Iran nuclear issue:

·         Anarchic government and policy - US policy is no longer determined and presented to the world by a single government, but is rather pulled this way and that by different agencies and bodies.

·         Poor administrative structure - Forcing, or allowing, the NIS to prepare an "official" unified intelligence report that reflects all the agencies hides real information from elected officials, and tends to produce "herd thinking" that increases errors such as those we saw in the past: "Everyone" thought that the USSR was not about to collapse, "Everyone" thought there would be no war in 1967, "Everyone" thought that Saddam had WMD. In reality, not everyone believed any of those things, but consensus psychology produced that impression. It has now been reinforced by the demand that NIS produce unified reports.

·         Incompetent intelligence gathering - If indeed the Iranians halted their nuclear weapons program in 2003, how is it possible that there was no hint of this in 2005?

·         Incompetent intelligence evaluation - When presented with such different findings in 2005 and 2007, the NIS should have understood that they can no longer have "high confidence" in any of their findings about Iran, and should have been more cautious in evaluating what they found. Moreover, they should not attempt to make any predictions about the future behavior and plans of states, which relate to information they could not possibly know.

·         Political influence - The possibility that the content of the different National Intelligence Estimates reflects the vicissitudes of political currents in Washington more than it reflects that data on which they are based cannot be excluded. U.S. Middle East policy increasingly reflects U.S. domestic policy and professional and personal biases of the different agencies and bodies. In reality, there is only one Middle East. There is not a neoconservative reality and a pragmatic reality and a Democratic reality etc. Everyone should at least agree about the facts. American policy makers seem to have no understanding of the Middle East that is independent of their own political exigencies and prejudices.

·         Incompetent leadership - President Bush should have assimilated the import of the National Intelligence Estimate and made a more realistic assessment of the effect that this information would have on allies and partners, as well as internal US political support for sanctions against Iran. Instead, he totally ignored it until the findings were made public, and then tried to minimize the impact. Either the NIE is wrong, or the policy is wrong, and his attempts to spin it are not convincing.

·         Contempt for allies and partners - The British, the Israelis, the participants in the Annapolis conference were all left in the dark about the NIE, a "bomb" that would be dropped as soon as the conference had broken up, which seems to have made the Middle East a "whole new ball game," regardless of its accuracy.

The United States government plainly needs to get its act together. The question of how Israel should react is a subject for a different article.

Ami Isseroff

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.



Alone in the battlefield

US report claiming Iran froze its nuke program may force Israel to face threat alone

Alex Fishman, 12.04.07,

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  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.


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

The Peaceful Majority

I don't know who William Haynes is, but he sure makes some good--and frightening--points.
The Peaceful Majority by William Haynes

I used to know a man whose family was German aristocracy
prior to World War Two. They owned a number of large
industries and estates. I asked him how many German people
were true Nazis, and the answer he gave has stuck with me
and guided my attitude toward fanaticism ever since.

"Very few people were true Nazis "he said," but many enjoyed
the return of German pride, and many more were too busy to
care. I was one of those who just thought the Nazis were a
bunch of fools. So, the majority just sat back and let it
all happen. Then, before we knew it, they owned us, and we
had lost control, and the end of the world had come. My
family lost everything, I ended up in a concentration camp,
and the Allies destroyed my factories."

We are told again and again by "experts" and "talking heads"
that Islam is the religion of peace, and that the vast
majority of Muslims just want to live in peace.

Although this unqualified assertion may be true, it is
entirely irrelevant. It is meaningless fluff, meant to make
us feel better, and meant to somehow diminish the specter of
fanatics rampaging across the globe in the name of Islam.
The fact is that the fanatics rule Islam at this moment in

It is the fanatics who march. It is the fanatics who wage
any one of 50 shooting wars worldwide. It is the fanatics
who systematically slaughter Christian or tribal groups
throughout Africa and are gradually taking over the entire
continent in an Islamic wave. It is the fanatics who bomb,
behead, murder, or honor kill. It is the fanatics who take
over mosque after mosque. It is the fanatics who zealously
spread the stoning and hanging of rape victims and
homosexuals. The hard quantifiable fact is that the
"peaceful majority" is the "silent majority" and it is cowed
and extraneous.

Communist Russia comprised Russians who just wanted to live
in peace, yet the Russian Communists were responsible for
the murder of about 20 million people. The peaceful
majority were irrelevant. China's huge population was
peaceful as well, but Chinese Communists managed to kill a
staggering 70 million people.

The average Japanese individual prior to World War 2 was not
a warmongering sadist. Yet, Japan murdered and slaughtered
its way across South East Asia in an orgy of killing that
included the systematic murder of 12 million Chinese
civilians; most killed by sword, shovel, and bayonet. And,
who can forget Rwanda , which collapsed into butchery. Could
it not be said that the majority of Rwandans were "peace

History lessons are often incredibly simple and blunt, yet
for all our powers of reason we often miss the most basic
and uncomplicated of points:

Peace-loving Muslims have been made irrelevant by their

Peace-loving Muslims will become our enemy if they don't
speak up, because like my friend from Germany , they will
awake one day and find that the fanatics own them, and the
end of their world will have begun.

Peace-loving Germans, Japanese, Chinese, Russians, Rwandans,
Serbs Afghans, Iraqis, Palestinians, Somalis, Nigerians,
Algerians, and many others have died because the peaceful
majority did not speak up until it was too late.

As for us who watch it all unfold; we must pay attention to
the only group that counts: the fanatics who threaten our
way of life.

Lastly, I wish to add: I sincerely think that anyone who
rejects this as just another political rant, or doubts the
seriousness of this issue, or just deletes it without paying
heed to it, or sending it on, is part of the problem. Let's
quit laughing at and forwarding the jokes and cartoons
which denigrate and ridicule our leaders in this war
against terror. They are trying to protect the interests
and well being of the world and it's citizens. Best we
support them.

William Haynes

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.