Reading the NIE

Caroline Glick carefully reads and interprets the NIE on Iran’s nuclear program from the perspective of Israel. Doing so, she draws a bead on the meaning of the report’s internal contradiction:

The US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear intentions is the political version of a tactical nuclear strike on efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear bombs.
The NIE begins with the sensationalist opening line: “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Teheran halted its nuclear weapons program.” But the rest of the report contradicts the lead sentence. For instance, the second line says, “We also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Teheran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.”
Indeed, contrary to that earth-shattering opening, the NIE acknowledges that the Iranians have an active nuclear program and that they are between two and five years away from nuclear capabilities.
The NIE’s final sentence: “We assess with high confidence that Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so,” only emphasizes that US intelligence agencies view Iran’s nuclear program as a continuous and increasing threat rather than a suspended and diminishing one.
But the content of the NIE is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is the opening line – as the report’s authors no doubt knew full well when they wrote it. With that opening line, the NIE effectively takes the option of American use of force to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons off the table.

Glick observes:

[T]he NIE makes a strange distinction between Iran’s “civilian” nuclear program which has not stopped for a moment and its “military” program which supposedly ended in 2003. Since both programs are controlled and run by the Revolutionary Guards, it is obvious that no such distinction exists for the Iranians. And as former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton wrote Thursday in The Washington Post, “It has always been Iran’s ‘civilian’ program that posed the main risk of nuclear ‘breakout.'”

Glick also looks beyond the confines of the report to challenge its principal theme:

[T]he US intelligence community’s pathetic track record must be taken into account. American intelligence agencies failed to take note of the al-Qaida threat to US security before September 11. It misjudged Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities and intentions. And most recently, it failed to take notice of Syria’s nuclear program even though the North Korean nuclear facility which Israel reportedly destroyed on September 6 was built above ground.
As for that, the Israeli strike showed clearly that there is no reason to assume that Iran’s nuclear program is located only in Iran. It is reasonable to assume that some of its components are located in Syria, North Korea and Pakistan and perhaps in China and Russia as well.

At Connecting the Dots Gabriel Schoenfeld — a skeptic of the thesis that the NIE could have been manipulated to advance the agenda of the report’s authors — reconsiders his skepticism here. The Jerusalem Post reports (via Time) that “US intel ends option of military strike against Iran.”
The effect of the NIE puts me in mind of Churchill’s words in Parliament condemning the Munich Agreement. Referring to the relief felt by the people of England to the temporary avoidance of war with Germany, he avowed that “they should know that we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road[.]”

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