A recent series of benign-sounding assessments may actually indicate how little U.S. experts really know about Iran's nuclear program. Hacked e-mails published Monday by Wikileaks quote analysts from the private intelligence analysis group Stratfor (which works closely with the U.S. intelligence community) asserting that Israeli commandos and Kurdish fighters had destroyed Iran's entire nuclear infrastructure weeks ago.
National Intelligence Director James Clapper and CIA Director David Petraeus said Jan. 31 that there was no evidence that Iran had decided to make a concerted effort to build an atomic weapon.
"They are certainly moving on that path, but we don't believe they have actually made the decision to go ahead with a nuclear weapon," Clapper told the Senate intelligence Committee. According to a New York Times report on Friday, the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies believe Tehran has yet to decide whether to resume a program to design a nuclear warhead – a program Washington believes was halted in 2003.
But former United Nations weapons inspector David Kay says a note of caution is in order before concluding that one or another Iranian nuclear program has been "stopped." The lack of evidence that Iran has decided to move forward in building a bomb "reflects a real gap in the intelligence" and "a lack of access" to critical intelligence data, he said.
In Monday's Wall Street Journal, American Enterprise Institute analysts Frederick W. Kagan and Maseh Zarif wrote that the U.S. intelligence community is deluding itself when it comes to Iranian nuclear weapons development efforts.
They noted that on Friday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a report showing that it has "made no progress in its negotiations with Iran," which continues to accelerate its uranium enrichment operations in violations of its agreements with the IAEA and U.N. Security Council obligations.
"Americans are being played for fools by Iran – and fooling themselves ... The prospect of war with Iran is so distasteful that people are desperate to persuade themselves that the problem is not serious," Kagan and Zarif wrote. "Those who oppose military action against Iran under any circumstances must say so, and must accept the consequences of that statement.Those who advocate military action must also accept and consider the consequences – regional and possibly global conflict and all of the associated perils of war. But neither American nor Israeli nor any Western interest is served by lying to ourselves and pretending the predicament will go away."
Read Zarif's rebuttal of claims that Iran had built a fake nuclear enrichment facility here.