The significance of the NIE

There’s lots of speculation about the significance of the US government making the NIE (National Intelligence Estimate) public, and the spin that is being put on it. We really know very little — was this a strike against the Bush Administration or a maneuver by it? Does it mean that the ‘military option is off the table’, if indeed it ever was on the table?

We don’t know, although it is clear that the forces opposing a confrontation (military or diplomatic) with Iran over her nuclear program have suffered a severe setback — notwithstanding the fact that a close reading of the NIE text does not justify this.

A thread which I’ve been hearing lately is that the US has made a deal with Iran: take the pressure off us in Iraq and we will take the pressure off of your nuclear program. And there’s another deal with Syria, too: stop supporting the insurgents and we will not interfere in Lebanon. Debka and Ted Belman provide an exposition of this theory here.

Is it true? Probably not in precisely the way they spell it out. But they are close. Keep this in mind:

The view in the US, from all sides of the political spectrum is that the trap we have fallen into in Iraq is the biggest disaster for the US in recent memory (pro-administration spokespersons will say otherwise, but I guarantee that this is what they think). While disagreeing about how or why it happened, we can be sure that the one thing politicians of all stripes do agree about is that almost anything we can do to get out without creating chaos will be justified (of course they also disagree about the meaning of ‘chaos’). Just the economic damage done by the war will be a massive blow to the US in years to come.

The policy that we are now appearing to follow is the policy of ‘engagement’ with the major players in the region that are acting on Iraq — Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Syria — that was originally spelled out in the Iraq Study Group Report, which I wrote about in these pages almost exactly one year ago. I found it notable that so much mention was made of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which appears to have little to do with Iraq.

But this is not surprising, given the identity of the players and their policy goals: Syria to dominate Lebanon without interference from Israel or the US and to get the Golan without having to give a real peace agreement in return, Saudi Arabia to get their ‘peace’ plan implemented (and thereby to be the ones to finally end the Zionist entity), and Iran to cement her influence over the Eastern Mediterranean area by way of Hizbullah and Hamas, in spite of Israel.

So, Ami Isseroff is correct when he tells us that

Iran’s nuclear program is not just about Israel. It was never just about Israel. The Iranian program is a threat to the entire Middle East, especially its Arab neighbors in the Gulf, and to the United States. They aren’t necessarily going to use the bomb. They are going to use the possession of the bomb as leverage to out the US, from the Gulf and impose their own will there and in the rest of the Middle East. The NIE report, which causes such jubilation in Tehran, caused fear among Arab states. Ahmadinejad has tried very hard to make the issue into an Israel issue, because that defuses Arab opposition and recruits domestic support in Iran for the project.

All this is true. But it is also true that Israel has become central to the regional conflict, her interests a set of bargaining chips in the hands of an increasingly desperate USA.

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