Thursday, August 09, 2012

Is There A New NIE?

I've stuck my neck out on a very long limb by insisting that Israel will not attack Iran this year. I made my first public prediction back in February, when the "smart money" was betting on a June or July attack. Here we are in early August, and exactly as I predicted -- no Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.

One option I never considered was an American attack on Iran in 2012.

One of the pieces of evidence I used in support of my prediction that Israel would not attack in 2012 was the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), produced during the warmongering Bush presidency, which concluded that Iran had suspended its military nuclear program in 2003, and would be capable of producing an atomic weapon no earlier than 2015. It was a controversial NIE, and it generated praise from doves and consternation from hawks both here and abroad. But I thought precisely because the 2007 NIE was produced for a White House that claimed "axis of evil" status for Iran it had the ring of bitter truth.

When you make a prediction as I did, you better be prepared to either stick with it or adjust it as circumstances warrant. And I am now trying to figure out if circumstances warrant.

What has happened in the last 24 hours is that an Israeli journalist who likes to break big stories but who has less than a perfect batting record (see Dennis Ross's "red phone") has reported that unnamed "Western diplomats and Israeli officials" have told him that a new NIE has been delivered to the Obama White House with alarming new information that confirms the more threatening portrait of Iran touted by Israeli intelligence for the past 6 months.

Writes Haaretz's Barak Ravid:
This NIE report on Iran was supposed to have been submitted to Obama a few weeks ago, but it was revised to include new and alarming intelligence information about military components of Iran's nuclear program. Haaretz has learned that the report's conclusions are quite similar to those drawn by Israel's intelligence community.
The NIE report contends that Iran has made surprising, notable progress in the research and development of key components of its military nuclear program.
Now if this report is true, it is -- excuse the pun -- a bombshell. A National Intelligence Estimate is a classified document that presents the findings of the top spooks/analysts in the US intelligence community. They actually become pillars of American foreign policy. When an NIE changes as radically as this Israeli journalist is suggesting, it is a game changer.  But, here we are nearly 24 hours into the publication of this "exclusive" news report and I cannot find anyone who has independently corroborated, with either named or unnamed sources, the story that a new NIE has been produced. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who might have been one of Ravid's unnamed "Israeli officials," went on Israeli radio this morning to confirm the gist of the story -- that US intelligence now tracks "much, much" closer to Israeli intelligence, but Barak walked back from calling this new US intelligence an actual NIE.

To top things off, the reporter who broke the "exclusive" that has yet to be confirmed by any other news source went on an Israeli TV news show for a live interview, and then raised speculation (more like Israeli government wishful thinking) he has overheard that this new NIE might very well serve as the pretext for a possible "October surprise" attack by the Obama administration. And for me, at that point, we pass into a world of conspiracy theories and invisible goblins. You got my attention, working journalist, but your performance on the TV show is less than reassuring.

The truly foolish character in this episode so far is not the journalist, who has double-sourced his story. The foolish character is once again Ehud Barak. In Hebrew, there is a saying "ratz le-sapper la-chevreh" which means "run to tell your buds" and it refers to the rampant gossiping and loose lips of Israeli soldiers and politicians. There have been a string of high-level US administration visitors to Israel in the last few weeks (Scanlon, Clinton, Panetta), and it looks like Barak ran to breathlessly tell his buds, the local journalist du jour, that the US is now seeing Iranian intentions the same as Israel. And I have no doubt that it was Ravid's sources -- and not Ravid -- who used the words "National Intelligence Estimate."

This story could change by the minute or by the hour. So don't hold me to any of it. It seems intriguing, but it may turn out to be much ado about nothing.

So all I am saying is this: I still stand by my prediction -- no Israeli aerial attack on Iranian nuclear installations in 2012. If this report by Mr. Ravid is confirmed (and not simply bounced around the world as a headline, citing his lone story as the source), I will reconsider. And don't ask me about 2013...

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