A life or death situation

The publication of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), and — more importantly — the spin placed on the statement therein that “in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program”, has encouraged Iran to continue its enrichment of uranium and has reduced the possibility of effective international sanctions.

In the international scene, Russia’s decision to renew fuel shipments to Iran main nuclear facility at Bushehr was interpreted by many anlysts as stemming directly from the NIE’s publication; another development possibly stemming from the report is Russia and China’s hardened position on further sanctions against Teheran.

In Teheran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quick to capitalize on the NIE, calling it an “Iranian victory” and demanding that the United States publicly apologize for its previous bellicose stance. — Jerusalem Post

As I have written, reading past the first sentence in the NIE makes it clear that the intelligence community’s estimation of the Iranian potential to make nuclear weapons has not changed much, if at all.

However, politically — in both the international and domestic arenas — the statement is highly significant. Unless it’s a trick to distract the Iranians while we plan to bomb them (doubtful), it sends the message that the US does not plan to interfere militarily in the Iranian program. And this message has obviously been received loud and clear in Moscow, Beijing, and Teheran.

Today, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said

On Iran, I continue to say that if Iran will just do the one thing that is required of it by the Security Council resolutions that have been passed — and that is suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities — then I’m prepared to meet my counterpart any place and anytime and anywhere and we can talk about anything… — AP

Of course Iran does not need to worry about resolutions which are not likely to be enforced, but note also that she did not even mention nuclear weapons.

One can speculate about why the US has taken the military option off the table. Some possibilities are

  • we have been deterred by the probable Iranian response, both against our troops, ships, and installations in the region and in the form of terrorism against Americans in the US and elsewhere; and
  • we have been encouraged by secret Iranian promises to take the heat off in Iraq.

Probably, the answer is a bit of both. I also think our policymakers think that a direct nuclear threat from Iran against the US is far in the future, and can be deterred by a promise of massive retaliation.

For Israel the question is much sharper. Israeli planners see a world with Iranian nuclear weapons as a world without Israel.

The consequence of the NIE is that both US pressure and international sanctions are less likely to prevent Iran from achieving its goal. Therefore, the possibility that Israel will at some point find her red line crossed and wil attack Iran is much greater.

Some argue that this can’t happen because Israel doesn’t have the capability, because Israel can’t risk the Iranian (and Syrian) response, because the US is unlikely to give the ‘green light’, etc.

But in a life or death situation, even the most dangerous course of action is better than doing nothing.

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