Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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December 6, 2007

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In-Depth Issues:

Peres Warns: One Morning We'll Wake to a Nuclear Iran - Roni Sofer (Ynet News)
    According to President Shimon Peres, historically, intelligence reports sometimes turn out to be inaccurate, but on the Iranian issue the international community must eschew compromise and focus on a few clear warning signs.
    Peres warned visiting former American Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that whenever Iran develops a successful civilian nuclear energy program, the transition to developing nuclear weapons will be quick and easy.
    Furthermore, Peres warned that it was impossible for any intelligence agency to know the exact nature and scope of the technological knowledge purchased from North Korea and Russia at high prices.
    "We are likely to wake up one morning and discover that comprehensive nuclear technology was passed on without interruption and is close to implementation," he said.

Iran's Nuclear Program and the National Intelligence Estimate - Interview with Senator Joe Lieberman (Federal News Service)
    "The headline you just read shows the danger here, which is that people will reach a conclusion that all of our concern about Iran building nuclear weapons was misplaced, it's over, there's no problem. If you read this report, this intelligence report, you see that that's not true. It says very clearly Iran has both the capacity and intention to build a nuclear weapon."
    "And in fact, they are focused now on the first, most important thing that they need to do, which is to enrich uranium. So this is not cause for complacency. There's still a lot about what Iran is doing that should concern us and encourage us to keep the economic and diplomatic pressure on them."

Iran's Intentions Are Still the Great Unknown - William M. Arkin (Washington Post)
    I agree with President Bush and others who are cautioning that the Iranian threat remains alive.
    The reassurances that can be inferred from the new national intelligence estimate are being vastly overstated. It's not as if the NIE declares Iran benign or its nuclear weapons program over.
    In addition, Iranian threats to the Strait of Hormuz, interference in Iraq, continued development of long-range ballistic missiles and support for international terrorism are all potential flashpoints.

Excavation in Jerusalem Unearths Ancient Mansion - Nadav Shragai (Ha'aretz)
    The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced Wednesday that the mansion it has been uncovering in Jerusalem may have been a palace belonging to Queen Helene of Adiabene. Helene built grand residences in the area of the City of David.
    The excavation has uncovered five-meter-high walls with stones weighing hundreds of kilograms, halls preserved to a height of at least two stories, a basement with an arched ceiling, and remnants of colored frescoes and ritual baths.

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  • Notes from Iranian Military Deliberations Led to U.S. Shift - David E. Sanger and Steven Lee Myers
    American intelligence agencies reversed their view about the status of Iran's nuclear weapons program after they obtained notes last summer from the deliberations of Iranian military officials involved in the weapons development program, senior intelligence and government officials said on Wednesday. The notes included conversations and deliberations in which some of the military officials complained bitterly about what they termed a decision by their superiors in late 2003 to shut down a complex engineering effort to design nuclear weapons, including a warhead that could fit atop Iranian missiles. Ultimately, the notes and deliberations were corroborated by other intelligence, the officials said, including intercepted conversations among Iranian officials, collected in recent months.
        In a statement Wednesday, the White House revised its account of what Mr. Bush was told in August and acknowledged that Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, had informed him new information might show that "Iran does in fact have a covert weapons program, but it may be suspended." In fact, some in the intelligence agencies appear to be not fully convinced that the notes of the deliberations indicated that all aspects of the weapons program had been shut down. The crucial judgments released on Monday said that while "we judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years," it also included the warning that "intelligence gaps discussed elsewhere in this Estimate" led both the Department of Energy and the National Intelligence Council "to assess with only moderate confidence that the halt to those activities represents a halt to Iran's entire nuclear weapons program." (New York Times)
  • Report on Iran Fuels Arab Fears - Jeffrey Fleishman
    The dwindling possibility of a U.S. attack on Iran is changing the dynamics of Middle East politics and raising Arab concern that Tehran now feels emboldened to strengthen its military, increase its support for Islamic radicals and exert more influence in the region's troubled countries. Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations opposed military action against Iran's nuclear program. But they were privately relieved that Washington's threats kept Tehran preoccupied, despite its manipulation of politics in Iraq and Lebanon and its support of the radical group Hamas in Gaza.
        The U.S. intelligence report has eased international pressure for sanctions and invigorated the country's hard-liners. This comes as the Arab world has been countering Ahmadinejad's rhetoric and his government's influence over the presidential turmoil in Lebanon, the politics in Syria, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The report did not allay Arab fears over Iran's nuclear intentions and its secretive program to enrich uranium. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Bush Tells Iran to Disclose Nuclear Activities - Michael Abramowitz and Robin Wright
    President Bush called on Iran to "come clean" about the scope of its nuclear activities Wednesday, as the White House made it clear there will be no change in its policy toward Tehran despite new intelligence questioning that country's nuclear ambitions. "The Iranians have a strategic choice to make," Bush said. "They can come clean with the international community about the scope of their nuclear activities and fully accept" the U.S. offer to negotiate if they suspend their nuclear enrichment program - "or they can continue on a path of isolation."  (Washington Post)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Israel Protests to Egypt for Permitting Palestinian Terrorists to Leave Gaza for Training in Iran - Yaakov Katz
    Israel has filed a complaint with Cairo after Egypt allowed 1,700 Palestinians to pass through the Rafah Crossing to make the haj pilgrimage to Mecca, amid concerns that terrorists were allowed to leave Gaza and travel abroad for training in Iran. On Monday, Egypt unilaterally opened the Rafah border terminal and allowed 700 Palestinians to pass through, while on Tuesday another 1,000 crossed through.
        "This is a clear breach of agreements we have made with the Egyptians," a senior diplomatic official said Wednesday. IDF intelligence estimates that up to a couple of dozen Hamas terrorists were among the so-called pilgrims Egypt allowed out of Gaza. Egypt had previously breached its agreement with Israel and opened the border unilaterally in October when it allowed 85 Hamas operatives to cross back into Gaza from Egypt. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Palestinian Rocket Hits Sderot Apartment Building - Shmulik Hadad
    A Kassam rocket fired by Palestinian terror groups in Gaza crashed into the top-floor apartment of a three-storey building in Sderot on Wednesday evening, causing damage to the apartment. Four people were treated for shock. The rocket landed in the town during a rally which opened with the lighting of a special Hanukkah menorah made of Kassam rocket casings. (Ynet News)
  • PA Policeman Killed by IDF Unit in Bethlehem - Ali Waked
    Clashes between an undercover IDF force and Palestinians resulted in the death of a Palestinian policeman on Wednesday near Bethlehem. Palestinian forces opened fire on a commercial vehicle transporting undercover IDF soldiers, who returned fire, killing one and wounding two other Palestinian policemen. The commander of the IDF's Judea and Samaria Division, Brig. Gen. Noam Tibon, contacted the Palestinians and offered medical assistance. (Ynet News)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • The Flaws in the Iran Report - John R. Bolton
    The headline finding - that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 - is written in a way that guarantees the totality of the conclusions will be misread. In fact, there is little substantive difference between the conclusions of the 2005 NIE on Iran's nuclear capabilities and the 2007 NIE. Moreover, the distinction between "military" and "civilian" programs is highly artificial, since the enrichment of uranium, which all agree Iran is continuing, is critical to civilian and military uses. Indeed, it has always been Iran's "civilian" program that posed the main risk of a nuclear "breakout."
        The real differences between the NIEs are not in the hard data but in the psychological assessment of the mullahs' motives and objectives. The 2007 NIE is internally contradictory and insufficiently supported. It implies that Iran is susceptible to diplomatic persuasion and pressure, yet the only event in 2003 that might have affected Iran was our invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. As undersecretary of state for arms control in 2003, I know we were nowhere near exerting any significant diplomatic pressure on Iran. (Washington Post)
  • Not the Best Intelligence - Avner Cohen
    The release of the National Intelligence Estimate was a political miscalculation that has struck a fatal blow to the administration's diplomatic efforts to bring sanctions against Iran. The community of nuclear experts in Washington, including many of us who oppose military action against Iran, were shocked at the methodologically shallow, confusing and unprofessional way that many of the NIE's findings were formulated. Some believe that the intelligence officials, with Rice's assistance, have taken upon themselves the patriotic task of saving Bush from himself.
        The report notes that Iran suspended or halted the working groups building the bomb, but creates the false impression that this was the main component of Iran's nuclear weapons development program. The writer is a senior research fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington. (Ha'aretz)
  • Decoding the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's Nuclear Weapons Program - Gerald M. Steinberg
    The U.S. government's latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) has concluded that Iran froze its active efforts to manufacture nuclear weapons in 2003, and will not have such a capability until at least 2012. While the NIE states that the U.S. intelligence community has "high confidence" that the Iranians halted their nuclear weapons program in 2003, it also states that it has only "moderate confidence" that Tehran has not restarted the program. In contrast, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said that while it is "apparently true that in 2003, Iran stopped pursuing its military nuclear program for a certain period of time," nonetheless, he adds that "in our estimation, since then it is apparently continuing with its program to produce a nuclear weapon."
        Israeli analysts have long warned their U.S. counterparts about the potential for a parallel "black" Iranian weapons program, based on a small nuclear reactor producing plutonium, and following the North Korean model. Indeed, Iran is known to be constructing just such a reactor at Arak, leaving room for another undetected facility. (Institute for Contemporary Affairs/Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • Observations:

    In Iran We Trust? - Valerie Lincy and Gary Milhollin (New York Times)

    • The latest National Intelligence Estimate contains the same sorts of flaws that we have learned to expect from our intelligence agency offerings.
    • During the past year, a period when Iran's weapons program was supposedly halted, the government has been busy installing some 3,000 gas centrifuges at its plant at Natanz. These machines could, if operated continuously for about a year, create enough enriched uranium to provide fuel for a bomb.
    • In addition, they have no plausible purpose in Iran's civilian nuclear effort. All of Iran's needs for enriched uranium for its energy programs are covered by a contract with Russia.
    • Iran is also building a heavy water reactor at its research center at Arak. This reactor is ideal for producing plutonium for nuclear bombs, but is of little use in an energy program like Iran's, which does not use plutonium for reactor fuel.
    • For years these expensive projects have been viewed as evidence of Iran's commitment to nuclear weapons. Why aren't they still? The answer is that the new report defines "nuclear weapons program" in a ludicrously narrow way: it confines it to enriching uranium at secret sites or working on a nuclear weapon design.

      Valerie Lincy is the editor of Gary Milhollin is the director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control.

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