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.