Iran's Nuclear Deceptions
Article published Dec.
Iran's Nuclear Deceptions
By Kenneth R. Timmerman
The Washington Times | Friday, December 07, 2007
Somehow, this music is familiar. The Islamic Republic of Iran, once
thought to be working on nuclear weapons, has seen the folly of its
ways. Without saying a word to anyone, it has canceled clandestine work
on the bomb, but our sharp intelligence warriors learned all about it
and have now warned the White House and Democrats in Congress:
Iran is no longer a threat. The world can sleep soundly at night.
Behold, it's Peace in Our Time.
The truth, of course, is far more nuanced. What the latest National
Intelligence Estimate on Iran actually said for the first time in an
official, United States government document released to the public, is
that Iran was actively pursuing nuclear weapons in 2003.
The NIE also said Iran continues to enrich uranium and will have enough
highly enriched material to make its first bomb by the end of 2009. Or
by 2013. Or perhaps 2015. It all depends, we are told, on just how much
progress the Iranians have made in this part of their program.
That uncertainty — which is absolutely critical — concerns the one part
of Iran's nuclear programs that is open and has been declared (since
2003) to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
If the U.S. intelligence community can't give us a reliable estimate on
the status of that declared program, how can they state with “high
confidence” that Tehran halted a clandestine nuclear weapons effort in
fall 2003? If Iran actually stopped something, we don't know what it
is. Because, of course, what they stopped was covert and has never been
declared or inspected.
But we do know quite a lot. We know, for example, that Iran announced
last week the successful test of a new, multistage, solid-fuel missile,
the Ashoura. This new missile is said to have a range of about 2,000
kilometers (1,240 miles), and brings most of Europe into range of Iran.
Why is this new missile important? For one simple reason, according to
Israeli missile expert, Uzi Rubin. “A solid-propellant, multistage
missile is the big milestone on the way to developing an
Intercontinental Ballistic Missile,” he said at a conference hosted
Tuesday by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. If the
Iranians can make the Ashoura fly, “they will have achieved the
capability” of launching ICBMs at Europe or the United States.
Why would Iran want to develop an ICBM without a nuclear warhead? That
question was not addressed in the National Intelligence Estimate,
according to the declassified summary released Monday.
There are many additional questions raised by the NIE that should give
us pause. Here are just two:
(1) The information that Iran stopped some unspecified nuclear weapons
work in autumn 2003 seems based on a single, unvetted source — an
Iranian defector who provided information to a foreign intelligence
service. What confidence do our intelligence analysts have in this
defector? With the CIA's miserable track record in dealing with Iranian
defectors, I suspect I know the answer.
(2) What about the possibility of strategic deception? We are told the
National Intelligence Council considered this possibility, and
ultimately rejected it. And yet, Iranian and Russian intelligence
services have a deep, longstanding relationship. Let's not forget that
the Soviets invented the entire art form of maskirovka as a means of
gaining strategic surprise.
Iran's new nuclear “negotiator,” Saeed Jalali, recently told the
European Union's Javier Solana that Iran now intended to “go back to
Square One” in its nuclear negotiations with the West. This was before
release of the NIE.
Was it just a coincidence that Mr. Jalali then flew to Moscow on Dec.
3, where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and top national
security adviser, Valentin Sobolov? My Iranian sources tell me there
was a great deal of gloating behind those closed doors in Moscow about
how the Iranians had managed to put one over on us.
President Bush had it just right at his press conference Tuesday.
Setting aside the questions raised by the accuracy of the NIE, the one
thing everyone agrees on is this: Iran continues to enrich uranium, and
that gives Iran the capability to make weapons should they so choose.
What we can't do today any better than we could two years ago — or ever
— is read into their minds to discern intent.
And yet, this is precisely where the NIE falls down. It attempts to
ascribe peaceful intentions to Iran's leaders — intentions that fly in
the face of their words, their actions, and their proven capabilities.
Kenneth R. Timmerman was nominated for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize along
with John Bolton for his work on Iran. He is Executive Director of the
Foundation for Democracy in Iran, and author of Countdown to Crisis:
the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran (Crown Forum: 2005).
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