ArmsControlWonk’s Jeffrey Lewis and nuclear weapons watcher Paul Kerr turn out to be the winners of the what-is-Iran-really-doing prize. In July 2005 and then again November 2006, they reviewed the evidence and suggested that Iran’s concerns about a confrontation with the UN and the bureaucratic reorganization of its nuclear activities led it to shut down its covert weapons program.
President George Bush said today, quite specifically and emphatically, “Iran shut its weapons program down.” He also said that there was a lot to worry about — but the definitive statement that the nuclear weapons program is not active is a stunning, important admission.
Last evening, I attended a forum with former General, Labor Party Knesset Member, and former Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh. In response to a question from the floor about the Iran NIE, Sneh said that the “report was a lie.” He asked “why would someone leak this now?”
When later I privately told General Sneh that the report was not leaked and that it was on the home page of the Director of National Intelligence, he emphasized that “it had to be a lie, a deception.” He said that “Israeli and Americans know the same thing and have the same views on Iran.”
Sneh said that for him the release of this report “means that the United States is signaling that it will do nothing on Iran and will abandon its responsibilities.” He continued by saying, “I told them so. I always said that in the end, Israel would have to do this alone.”
Sneh concluded by saying, “When i get back, i will call together our intelligence establishment, and I will do all i can to begin seriously preparing the ‘Israel option’.”
Ehud Barak, now Defense Minister, said largely the same thing today that Sneh said last night — and I know that they did not coordinate as Ephraim Sneh was clearly shocked by the revelation.
What this means is that Israel and the U.S. are about to have a serious battle over the quality of intelligence — and this will put a substantial wedge between the nations. It will also aggravate the demarcation that already exists between the Cheney wing of the national security establishment and the Gates/Rice wing.
But America will not be bombing Iran any time soon.
And just to calm nerves about Israel, I spoke to a person very close to Prime Minister Olmert and was told emphatically that Prime Minister Olmert, while seriously concerned about Iran and its nuclear weapons ambitions, does not share “Ephraim Sneh’s fervent desire to take near term action against Iran.”
For those in Washington, DC, i will be discussing these issues at a New America Foundation event tomorrow with nuclear expert Jeffrey Lewis and former National Security Council Director for the Middle East Flynt Leverett — at noon at 1630 Connecticut Avenue, NW Washington, DC. C-Span will not be covering the meeting, but a recording will be posted on the New America site within the day.
— Steve Clemons