Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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December 5, 2007

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In-Depth Issues:

Ahmadinejad: U.S. Nuclear Assessment Is Victory for Iran (VOA News)
    Iranian President Ahmadinejad says the new U.S. intelligence report on Tehran's nuclear program is "a victory" for the Iranian nation against world powers.

Bush to Visit Mideast in January - Michael Abramowitz (Washington Post)
    President Bush plans to visit the Middle East in January, the White House announced Tuesday. The visit is likely to include Bush's first visit as president to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Lessons of Iraq Aided Intelligence on Iran - Joby Warrick and Walter Pincus (Washington Post)
    The starkly different view of Iran's nuclear program that emerged from U.S. spy agencies this week was the product of a surge in clandestine intelligence-gathering in Iran as well as radical changes in the way the intelligence community analyzes information.
    Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell required agencies to consult more sources, to say precisely what they know and how they know it, and to acknowledge, to a degree previously unheard of, what they do not know.

The Thin Line Between Civilian and Military Nuclear Programs - William J. Broad (New York Times)
    When is a nuclear program a nuclear weapons program? The open secret of the nuclear age is that the line between civilian and military programs is extraordinarily thin.
    One threshold is enriched uranium. Enriched to low levels, uranium can fuel a reactor that produces electrical power - which is what Tehran says it wants to do. But if uranium is purified in spinning centrifuges long enough, and becomes highly enriched, it can fuel an atom bomb.

Relax? Don't. Iran Can Still Build Its Bomb - Bronwen Maddox (Times-UK)
    The newly published U.S. intelligence report supports fears that Iran could soon have nuclear weapons.
    It argues that Iran has been deterred from pursuing them mainly by the fear of U.S. military action, a fear that has now faded.
    The report makes clear the seriousness of the threat, not the opposite.

The Gulf States and Iran - Max Boot (Wall Street Journal)
    In a recent visit to the Persian Gulf region organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the top issue throughout our meetings in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia was Iran's ambitions to dominate the region.
    Iranians are aiding extremists who are undermining nascent democracies in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon. The beneficiaries of Tehran's largess include Hamas, Hizbullah and even, the evidence indicates, al-Qaeda.
    Iran is building up its military arsenal, and has threatened to shut down the Persian Gulf. What particularly concerns Gulf Arabs is the possibility that Iran could go nuclear - a concern unlikely to be erased by the ambiguous findings of the new NIE.
    The writer is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Bush: New Report Shows Iran Is Still a Threat
    President Bush said at a press conference on Tuesday: "We know that they're still trying to learn how to enrich uranium. We know that enriching uranium is an important step in a country who wants to develop a weapon....Look, Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous, and Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. The NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] says that Iran had a hidden - a covert nuclear weapons program. That's what it said. What's to say they couldn't start another covert nuclear weapons program? And the best way to ensure that the world is peaceful in the future is for the international community to continue to work together to say to the Iranians, we're going to isolate you."
        "I still feel strongly that Iran is a danger. Nothing has changed in this NIE that says, okay, why don't we just stop worrying about it. Quite the contrary. I think the NIE makes it clear that Iran needs to be taken seriously as a threat to peace." (White House)
        See also Bush Says Iran Still a Danger Despite Report on Weapons - Steven Lee Myers and Helene Cooper (New York Times)
        See also U.S. Renews Efforts to Keep Coalition Against Tehran - Peter Baker and Robin Wright
    President Bush scrambled Tuesday to hold together a fragile international coalition against Iran. While his top diplomats reached out to key counterparts, Bush began calling world leaders and held a White House news conference to argue that the new National Intelligence Estimate only reinforces the need for diplomatic pressure against Iran. Bush said Tehran's secrecy shows it cannot be trusted. (Washington Post)
  • U.S., Britain, France and Israel Support Continued Diplomacy to Deter Iran - Steven Erlanger and Graham Bowley
    The U.S., Britain and France urged the international community to maintain pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear enrichment activities despite the new U.S. intelligence assessment. "We think the report's conclusions justify the actions already taken by the international community to both show the extent of and try to restrict Iran's nuclear program and to increase pressure on the regime to stop its enrichment and reprocessing activities," a spokesman for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.
        A French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said, "It appears that Iran is not respecting its international obligations....We must keep up the pressure on Iran." France will continue "to work on the introduction of restrictive measures in the framework of the United Nations."
        Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said diplomacy remained the correct path for now to deter Iran from developing a nuclear bomb. But he was explicit about the Israeli conclusion that Iran's intention is military, not civilian. "We believe that the purpose of the Iranian nuclear program is to achieve nuclear weapons. There is no other logical explanation for the investment the Iranians have made in their nuclear program." (New York Times)
  • Monitoring Agency Praises U.S. Report, But Keeps Wary Eye on Iran - Elaine Sciolino
    The International Atomic Energy Agency on Tuesday publicly embraced the new American intelligence assessment stating that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons effort, but in truth the agency is taking a more cautious approach. "To be frank, we are more skeptical," a senior official close to the agency said. "We don't buy the American analysis 100 percent. We are not that generous with Iran." The official called the American assertion that Iran had "halted" its weapons program in 2003 "somewhat surprising." (New York Times)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • IDF Soldier Wounded in Palestinian Mortar Attack
    An IDF soldier was wounded Tuesday night after a mortar shell fired by Palestinians in Gaza exploded near his position in the western Negev. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Over 2,000 Rockets Fired at Israel in 2007
    Palestinian militants have fired over 2,000 rockets into Israel from Gaza since the beginning of the year, an Israeli spokeswoman said Tuesday. On Tuesday, militants fired 21 Kassam rockets and mortars into Israeli territory. (Deutsche Presse-Agentur)
        See also Palestinian Rocket Fire Continues
    Palestinians in Gaza fired two Kassam rockets that struck Israel's western Negev Wednesday morning. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Why Does U.S. and Israeli Intelligence Differ? - Yaakov Katz
    The U.S. intelligence report released Monday claimed that Iran froze its nuclear military track four years ago. Israel's Mossad claims that the Iranians will be able to develop a nuclear bomb by the end of 2009; IDF Military Intelligence warns that Teheran will cross the technological threshold within six months; and now the Americans are putting the timeline toward the middle of the next decade, or 2013 at the earliest. Defense officials in Tel Aviv admitted Tuesday that the report would probably embolden Iran.
        The Americans are still traumatized by the blatant intelligence failure vis-a-vis Iraq's alleged WMD and do not want to be caught crying wolf again. Israel takes the more stringent track. As one defense official put it on Tuesday, "It is better to be safe than sorry." (Jerusalem Post)
  • Alone on the Battlefield - Alex Fishman
    They must be celebrating in Teheran. The American report claiming Iran froze its nuclear weapons development program in 2003 is a below-the-belt blow for the Israeli struggle in the international arena against Iranian nukes. Israeli defense officials fail to understand where the Americans got the idea that Iran has not renewed its nuclear weapons development process. The information available to Israeli and Western intelligence services shows that Iran, due to diplomatic pressures, indeed froze the process in 2003, but the same information shows that the efforts were renewed two years later and are continuing to this day.
        Behind closed doors, Israeli defense officials are convinced that U.S. intelligence bodies are simply getting it wrong, both in terms of timetables as well as certain phases in the development of Iran's military nuclear capabilities. Israel has no intention to stop or slow down its preparations in response to a nuclear Iran - but now we may have to do this a bit more alone. (Ynet News)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Good and Bad News about Iran - Editorial
    In the latest intelligence assessment about Iran there's also a lot of worrisome news that must not be overlooked. First, the report says "with high confidence" that Iran did have a secret nuclear weapons program and that it stopped only after it got caught and was threatened with international punishment. Even now, Tehran's scientists are working to master the skills to make nuclear fuel - the hardest part of building a weapon.
        Anyone who wants to give the Iranians the full benefit of the doubt should read the last four years of reports from UN nuclear inspectors about Iran's 18-year history of hiding and dissembling. Or last month's report, which criticized Tehran for providing "diminishing" information and access to its current program. In one of those ironies that would be delicious if it didn't involve nuclear weapons, an official close to the inspection agency told The Times Tuesday that the new American assessment might be too generous to Iran. The new report is not an argument for anyone to let down their guard when it comes to Iran's nuclear ambitions. What it does say is that some combination of intensified pressures and opportunities might - "if perceived by Iran's leaders as credible" - prompt Tehran to "extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program." (New York Times)
  • Intelligence on Iran - Editorial
    The new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran contains some unambiguously good news: that Tehran halted a covert nuclear weapons program in 2003, and that it is responsive to the sort of international pressure applied by the U.S. and other Western governments. But there is bad news, too. While U.S. intelligence agencies have "high confidence" that covert work on a bomb was suspended "for at least several years" after 2003, there is only "moderate confidence" that Tehran has not restarted the military program. Iran's massive overt investment in uranium enrichment meanwhile proceeds in defiance of binding UN resolutions. "Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons," says the summary's second sentence. (Washington Post)
  • Was Bush Behind the Iran Report? - Robert Baer
    Bombing Iran, it seems, is now off the table. There's no other reasonable take on the latest National Intelligence Estimate that concludes Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. But there is also no doubt that the Bush White House was behind this NIE and that a 180-degree turn on Iran like this one was greenlighted by the president. The real story behind this NIE is that the Bush Administration has finally concluded Iran is a bridge too far. With Iranian-backed Shi'a groups behaving themselves, things are looking up in Iraq.
        Then there are the Gulf Arabs. For the last year and a half, ever since the Bush Administration started to hint that it might hit Iran, they have been sending emissaries to Tehran to assure the Iranians they're not going to help the U.S. But in private, the Gulf Arabs have been reminding Washington that Iran is a rabid dog: Don't even think about kicking it, the Arabs tell us. If you have to do something, shoot it dead. Which is something the U.S. can't do. So how far is Iran from a nuke? The truth is that Iran is a black hole, and it's entirely conceivable Iran could build a bomb and we wouldn't know until they tested it. The writer is a former CIA field officer assigned to the Middle East. (TIME)
  • Observations:

    Judging Iran's Nuclear Program - Patrick Clawson (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

    • The just-released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), "Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities," is about weaponization, not the enrichment and fuel cycle issues that have been the focus of multiple UN Security Council and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board resolutions regarding Iran's nuclear program. The NIE only suggests that Tehran has changed its sequence - something that does not slow the country's progress toward a nuclear weapon by a single day. Therefore, it is not clear how this report affects the current thrust of U.S. policy: to stem Iran's nuclear fuel cycle capabilities.
    • The NIE states that Iran is making a headlong rush to produce enriched uranium - an attitude that does not support Tehran's claims of a strictly peaceful nuclear program. Indeed, the NIE's information about Iran's enrichment program is inconsistent with any claim that the regime has abandoned its interest in nuclear weapons.
    • The U.S. intelligence community has a poor track record regarding nuclear weapons programs, making incorrect judgments on some of the most important proliferation cases. It badly misjudged not only what Iraq was doing, but also the progress Libya and North Korea were making before caught.
    • The reality is that the estimate says little about whether Iran still aims to produce nuclear weapons or when it might do so.

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