Tuesday, December 18, 2007

No Smoking Gun

A senior Israeli government official says his country does not have a "smoking gun" that would force the U.S. to change its recently-released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran's nuclear program.

The unnamed official made his comment to the Jerusalem Post as an Israeli military intelligence team traveled to the U.S., for meetings with their American counterparts on Iran. It is not clear if the meeting is part of the routine "intelligence exchange" between the two countries, or if the session was added in response to the NIE, and its controversial conclusions.

Meanwhile, an Israeli diplomatic official tells the Post that it would be "very arrogant" or "naive" to think that his government had to only reveal one piece of information "to get the US intelligence community to say it erred and will "take it all back and follow Israel's line."

The official said it was clear that the Americans pretty much know what Israel knows about the Iranian nuclear program and that the difference is not over the facts but rather over their interpretation.

That assertion confirms what we've been saying from the start. Assessing the status of Tehran's nuclear weapons program, intel analysts from Israel, Great Britian and the United States used the same information, yet our intelligence community arrived at a vastly different conclusion, namely that Iran halted its weapons development effort in 2003, and there are no firm indications that the program has resumed. Israeli experts believe the 2003 pause was brief, and that Iran restarted its weapons program a year later.

As we noted previously, there will always be some degree of disagreement between intelligence analysts. A certain degree of dissent is healthy, even productive for the analytical process. But, working from the same data sets, it seems highly unlikely that American spooks could arrive at a vastly different conclusion than their British and Israeli counterparts. We'll stand by a point made in our recent NIE analysis for Pajamas Media: operating from the same information, it would be more likely for the three communities to reach the same conclusion--and get it wrong --than for the U.S. to disagree with two of its closest intelligence partners.

According to the Post, Israel is sticking by its own assessment of Tehran's nuclear ambitions. With enrichment activities continuing--and a resumption of weapons development effort--Israeli analysts believe that Iran is on track to obtain a nuclear capability by 2009 at the earliest, and 2012 at the latest.

We'd love to be a "fly on the wall" at that U.S.-Israeli intelligence exchange. While those sessions are normally conducted in a dispassionate, professional manner, this week's meeting has the potential to be rather contentious. The same holds true for talks between Israeli officials and Acting Undersecretary of State John Rood, who arrived in Israel on Saturday for talks on Iran. Mr. Rood, who runs anti-proliferation efforts at Foggy Bottom, is bound to get an ear-ful from his Israeli counterparts.

1 comment:

davod said...

The Three Amigos have a compadre in Israel.