Question: who has more credibility in strategic and military analysis these days: Washington or Jerusalem?
The question is especially important, as the U.S. and Israel seem to have drawn different conclusions about the imminent threat of Iran developing nuclear weapons.
The chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs, Adm. Mike Mullen, was in Tel Aviv for one day this week to hear from experts on why Israel thinks the U.S. intelligence assessment of the Iran situation was too narrowly focused, if not naïve. The National Intelligence Estimate, a consensus of 16 American spy agencies, expressed “high confidence” that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and “moderate confidence” that the program remains inactive.
Israeli officials agree that the program probably was halted four years ago, but they believe it resumed in 2005, and that Iran is on track to produce a nuclear bomb in the next two to four years.
The Israelis say the U.S. assessment was focused on weaponizing, when in truth the most important element of making a nuclear bomb — developing fissionable materials — is continuing.
As Dennis Ross, the former U.S. diplomat on Mideast talks, points out in an article in The New Republic this week, “the hard part of becoming a nuclear power is enriching uranium or separating out plutonium. And guess what? Iran is going full-speed ahead on both.”
In addition, news reports this week indicate that Iran decided in 2004 to scatter and disperse its weaponization programs to multiple sites rather than one central location.
What makes the current situation particularly troubling is that, in light of the NIE report, we are left with the sense that the West can breathe a sigh of relief now because the imminent threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb is off.
Not only is that not the case, the Israelis insist, but diplomatic efforts at the United Nations for sanctions against Iran have been undermined by the NIE findings. Just when a case could be made that the sanctions were having a positive impact and should be stepped up, the air has gone out of the Iran-is-a-danger balloon.
If the Israelis remain convinced that their findings are accurate and that, as a prime target, they are at risk, they will have to weigh the agonizing choices of how best to protect their people. In the meantime, we hope the U.S. and the rest of the world will pay close attention to Jerusalem’s analysis, and its conclusion: not to relax in dealing with Iran.