Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Is Iran still a threat?

Shalom All,

What really shocks me is that the very same people who repeatedly claim that everything produced by the Bush Administration or any "Intelligence" division thereof if a pile of bunk somehow think that this one is accurate. This NIE is no more or less believable than ANY OTHER Intelligence report issued over the past decade. There is no reason to suspect that it is more accurate than the NIEs about Iraq's WMDs and in fact there is reason to believe that it is LESS so. The very fact that Iran continues to work toward enrichment of Uranium SOLELY needed to develop weapons grade material, especially considering that Russia is supplying the only necessary materials to operate a civilian reactor, and the fact that Iran continues extensive work on delivery systems belies any evidence that it does not currently seek Nuclear weapons. That it may have shut down a portion of its program does not mean that it shut it all down. The difference between Iran as a threat PRE-NIE and Iran as a threat POST-NIE is that the latter is far greater because those opposed to any action against Iran, military or otherwise, now will use the NIE to defend Iran. Even if the NIE is false and should a new NIE be produced that counters the current one, I cannot imagine that those touting its current conclusions will tout those. They did not, after all, trumpet the 2005 NIE which claimed that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons. Should there be a 2008 NIE that states as much, I will eagerly await their immediate praise of AIPAC's assessment that Iran is still a threat.

Right now, there is serious concern among the Germans, French, British and Israelis that the US gave too high a level of confidence to one particular incident in the NIE, a conversation between scientists in which they mention that the nuclear weapons program stopped in 2003. It is that conversation ALONE, which the NIE gives "High Confidence" that is the sole evidence against continuing, if not accelerating Iranian nuclear weapons pursuits. The British and the Israelis in particular have argued strongly that the particular scientists involved likely knew that their conversation was being bugged because of previous experience in the locale involved. Thus, rather than "High Confidence" this particular bit of evidence should have at best been given "Moderate Confidence" and taken into account along with other existing evidence, the NIE would have demonstrated a likelihood, not that Iran had stopped its program, but instead that it likely continues. There could well be a new NIE in the coming weeks and months that completely reverses the conclusion of this one.

The belief is that the Bush Admin is trying to quiet the push to war, not to intensify it, despite the reality that Iran is continuing its efforts. Israel has sought to quiet its hawks as well because it does not wish to become compelled to attack on its own as it was forced to do against Iraq's nuclear program. There is a fear of being seen as warmongering and not simply concerned with security. Hopefully, the situation may be resolved peacefully, that Iran will indeed cease its enrichment activities.

All in all, the possibility of a nuclear armed Iran is untenable for Israel and for Iran's Sunni neighbors. The latter would insist on becoming nuclear powers themselves. Israel could well be pressed to destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities by whatever means necessary. Since it would only take one nuclear missile to obliterate Israel, the fact that Israel could retaliate is not a good enough deterrent. It is entirely possible that Israel will be forced out of fear to attack Iran should it continue to progress toward obtaining a nuclear weapon, whether it does so while talking about a civilian program or a weapons program. Enrichment of weapons grade material and enhancement of delivery systems are enough to conclude that Iran's intentions are not peaceful, regardless of what the leaders of Iran state. Our intelligence concerning Iran is so poor that a clandestine weapons program would likely go undiscovered for months or even years and since such a program could take place apart from the production of nuclear material, it would not at all be under the same scrutiny by observers.

All this said, it may well be the case that Iran has stopped its weapons programs, but if it can't convince Israel of that, it might as well just tell the world that it is progressing with haste toward acquiring them. The only real difference in these two options is that in one case Israel will act alone as it did in the 1980s and in the other case, the US MIGHT help. The fact that the US didn't help out with the Syrian installation this year, didn't help with Osirak in the 1980s, and didn't come to Israel's aid in 1973, 1967, or even 1948 would tend to negate that possibility.

If I were Ahmadinejad looking at US politics right now, I would have no fear at all of any US military action against Iran short of Iran attacking Israel first and that with such force as to render the survival of Israel in jeopardy. The only nation that has any courage to act short of responding to an already started war is Israel. Interestingly, it could well be that in a conflict with Iran, Israel is aided NOT by the US, but by France, Germany, and Britain whose recently elected governments are better positioned politically than ours to act against Iran and all of whom strongly question the US NIE.

In my mind, the utmost of hypocrisy is to act as if this report by the Bush Administration is somehow completely without error simply because you agree with its resultant lack of hostilities, whereas previous NIEs whose contents were not as appealing to you, you rejected outright.

I liken the current situation to the following. Iran is telling the world that it has no desire to make a working car, but it is producing fuel for vehicles, tires for a car, roads for a car, a car engine, a steering wheel, seats, axles, hub caps and an in-dash navigation system while telling the world how much octane is in its fuel and how many MPG a car would get. Perhaps, it is not intending to assemble them into a car, but those parts form a car. Now, if Iran said, "we stopped trying to make a car in 2003," that is all well and good. The believability of that statement comes into question if they continue to work on creating each component of a car and the impact of that statement, namely the importance of a decision to stop production of the vehicle, is lessened when one sees that should that particular decision be altered, the final goal of producing a car would be more easily achieved having created all of its parts.

All this said, I don't want to attack Iran. I don't want Israel to attack Iran. In fact, AIPAC doesn't want anyone to attack Iran right now either. The consequences for Israel of any hostilities with Iran would be very dire and because of this Israel and the US don't want to attack Iran. There is time for diplomacy. There is time to remove ourselves from the precipice of confrontation, but despite the NIE, we're still headed in the wrong direction. Iran is still headed in the wrong direction. As long as Iran continues to act with belligerence, to enrich uranium and talk about an end to the Jewish state, Israel has no choice but to assume that Iran is hostile and moving toward increasing its capability to act upon that hostility.

I believe that Nicolas Sarkozy is correct as quoted on the AIPAC website, which I checked because of a statement made by a partner in dialogue about AIPAC's conclusion that Iran remains a threat:
France: Iranian Nuclear Program “Has No Civilian Explanation”

President Sarkozy-->French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday said that Iran’s efforts to enrich uranium are ultimately intended to produce an atomic bomb, Agence France Presse reported. “Everyone agrees on the fact that what the Iranians are doing has no civilian explanation,” Sarkozy said. “The only debate is about whether they will develop a military capacity in one or five years.” Sarkozy added that if Iran adheres to its international obligations and allows the IAEA to carry out unhindered inspections, he would be willing to travel to Tehran to discuss a civilian nuclear partnership. However, the Islamic Republic has rebuffed multiple binding U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding that it suspend its efforts to enrich uranium and faces more stringent sanctions as a result of its non-compliance.

There is still time for diplomacy, but the time is ticking away.


Thursday, December 6, 2007

A Closer Look at the NIE on Iran

Shalom All,

Taking a closer look at the NIE on Iran's Nuclear capabilities, I have noticed a few intriguing things, some good and some bad. The best thing is that it may not be necessary to attack Iran's installations in the near future. Beyond that, things are not as rosy as we might hope.


The NIE declares that:

We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program1 ; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons. We judge with high confidence that the halt, and Tehran’s announcement of its decision to suspend its declared uranium enrichment program and sign an Additional Protocol to its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement, was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran’s previously undeclared nuclear work.

DJK Responds:

In my mind this is not at all a "vindication" of those who believe that Iran is "not pursuing nuclear weapons," but that it is not currently in the process of CREATING one according to current intelligence. I also strongly question whether or not there has been anything more than an "announcement" of a decision to "halt uranium enrichment" since Iran also announced that it now has 3000 centrifuges, something which it acquired and announced RECENTLY. Iran may not be USING their centrifuge capability to enrich uranium right now, but while not using those centrifuges it had, it acquired more capability, allowing it to enrich uranium faster in the future. Again, in my mind this is evidence that Iran is not currently IN THE PROCESS of creating a weapon, not that it is not "intent on pursuing the development of a weapon." This conclusion is not negated by the key points in the NIE.

The NIE states:

We assess with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons.
We judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years. (Because of intelligence gaps discussed elsewhere in this Estimate, however, DOE and the NIC assess with only moderate confidence that the halt to those activities represents a halt to Iran's entire nuclear weapons program.)
We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.

DJK Responds:

In other words, we are very confident that Iran INTENDED to develop nuclear weapons as of Fall, 2003. We are relatively certain that this was suspended for some time after. Why? In my mind, it is quite possibly because it was at that time that international scrutiny intensified on Iraq and Iran and because the US went through on its threats to invade Iraq, bringing dramatically increased US capability to act against nuclear installations in Iran. The NIE makes clear, however, that it is only moderately confident that the halt it has identified represents a halt to Iran's "entire nuclear weapons program." I would argue that the continued development of enrichment capabilities and delivery systems are two parts of that program that Iran has DEFINITELY NOT halted. Furthermore, the NIE states flatly that it does "not know whether it (Iran) currently intends to develop nuclear weapons."

The NIE adds:

D. Iranian entities are continuing to develop a range of technical capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so. For example, Iran’s civilian uranium enrichment program is continuing. We also assess with high confidence that since fall 2003, Iran has been conducting research and development projects with commercial and conventional military applications—some of which would also be of limited use for nuclear weapons.

DJK Responds:

This is in line with my thoughts above. Iran continues to move toward having the capability to create a weapon, whether or not it is currently intent on producing one as soon as possible.

The NIE states that:

Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs. This, in turn, suggests that some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might—if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program. It is difficult to specify what such a combination might be.

DJK Responds:

This is good news. It means that sanctions and other policies that affect the economy of Iran are also affecting its policies regarding nuclear weapons development. I would question what would happen should those sanctions be lessened, however, and the "benefit" of possessing a nuclear weapon should increase versus the "cost" of sanctions. This is especially true considering the NIE's assessment of the leadership of Iran and their objectives.

The NIE states that:

We assess with moderate confidence that convincing the Iranian leadership to forgo the eventual development of nuclear weapons will be difficult given the linkage many within the leadership probably see between nuclear weapons development and Iran’s key national security and foreign policy objectives, and given Iran’s considerable effort from at least the late 1980s to 2003 to develop such weapons. In our judgment, only an Iranian political decision to abandon a nuclear weapons objective would plausibly keep Iran from eventually producing nuclear weapons—and such a decision is inherently reversible.

DJK Responds:

This statement alone seems to strongly vindicate all of those who have stated that Iran is a serious threat and that it is likely to pursue the creation of nuclear weapons in the near future. It is this statement more than any other in the NIE that is troubling, because if this assessment is correct, any suspension of development of nuclear weapons by Iran is temporary at best.

Just a few thougts,


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The NIE on Iran's Weapons

I have been very discouraged by the attacks against candidates that take a hard line stance against Iran's weapons ambitions. There is now a very strong push to back away from any threat against Iran. This is abundantly clear among the Democratic candidates, but I can certainly see the Republican candidates toning down, in the least, their language concerning Iran. Israel has come out and said that the NIE goes against what their intel is saying. I tend to believe Israel's intel, seeing as how the NIE may well reflect other political and diplomatic motives, not necessarily including ALL of the intel available.

Considering US involvement (obstruction) of Israel's efforts to combat proliferation of North Korean weapons technology (likely NUCLEAR) in Syria I would question whether or not the current US administration is opposed to combating proliferation at all, fearing being seen, along with the Republican party as a whole, as warmongering. Further, it seems to me that the Democratic party wants to emphasize that it will not engage the US in any military conflicts in the coming years, much less soon after the election. Thus BOTH parties have strong incentive to act as if there is nothing to fight about.

Considering that this NIE comes in the wake of the Annapolis conference, I question whether or not it came BECAUSE of the Annapolis summit. It could well be that in discussions with the leaders and representatives of the Arab nations, it was decided that the threat of increased US involvement in the region was creating difficulty for our Arab allies and destabilizing oil markets in the process. I say this only seeing what is available in the media. It is reasonable to conclude that the evidence presented by the NIE is accurate and not created to serve this purpose. At issue, however, is the meaning of the evidence in the NIE and whether or not Israel's intel on this issue is superior to the US' intel.

For example, the NIE says that Iran stopped work on nuclear weapons in 2003. However, nuclear weapons require several different technologies and Iran has certainly continued work on some of them. There are nuclear bomb making technologies, delivery systems technologies, and technologies that combine the two. Iran is likely more or less in possession of enough nuclear technology (know how) to create a working bomb. It has spent no little effort over the past decade working on delivery systems with the help of Russia and North Korea and now possesses one http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/iran/shahab-4.htm . Hence it is only regarding combination technologies that there is even a question of Iran's ability to create a nuclear ballistic missile. Now add the production of enriched uranium and we are looking at a reasonable assumption that even with known Iranian capabilities, they are on a near term path to creating such a weapon. If there is a clandestine program that is unknown to US intelligence this could be sped up.

This is what I have seen and heard from news sources recently. Hopefully, the NIE is correct and Iran isn't working toward imminent construction of a weapon. In my mind, the NIE does not conclude that Iran is no longer in pursuit of a weapon, but only suggests that it is not working at full speed to acquire one, since it needed several different technologies to do so and the NIE relates to only one.

Anyway, my two cents.