In 2007, a growing international consensus on the need to stop Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons was hamstringed by a puzzling U.S. National Intelligence Estimate that claimed Tehran had abandoned its ambitions. Though the NIE was disputed by Israel as well as by other sources, this report became the bulwark of foreign policy realists determined to downplay or ignore the danger from Iran. But as Haaretz reports, a new NIE issued in the past month indicates not only is Iran working on such a program but they have made alarming progress on military applications of nuclear power.
The report, which was made known to the paper by both Western diplomats and Israeli officials, reportedly shows U.S. intelligence now concurs with their counterparts in the Jewish state that the Iranian peril is far greater than the Americans were previously willing to admit. This finding makes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s public questions about the West’s willingness to wait for sanctions and diplomacy to work justified. More to the point, it calls into question the Obama administration’s strategy of kicking the can down the road this year until after the elections.
The evidence of a major expansion of Iran’s nuclear program is a matter of record as far as the CIA is concerned, but the spy agency is still claiming Tehran hasn’t decided to build a bomb. Yesterday, COMMENTARY contributor Bill Gertz wrote in the Washington Free Beacon about the CIA’s official report to Congress on arms proliferation which was delivered in February but which hasn’t come to the attention of the public until now. The report states the bare facts about Iran’s program that are by now a matter of public knowledge since the International Atomic Energy Agency has been putting out regular bulletins about their damning findings.
The acknowledged facts are these: the Iranians have expanded their nuclear infrastructure and continued nuclear enrichment. They have constructed advanced nuclear centrifuges and bringing them online. Even more ominously, a new underground nuclear facility at Fordow has begun production of “near-20 percent enriched uranium,” the material that can be used to produce bombs. But as Gertz noted, the CIA’s report did not note the questions raised by the IAEA about weaponization research that is believed to be going on in Iran.
In the last week, more evidence of the serious nature of Iran’s nuclear threat has been made public. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has dramatically increased its production of highly enriched uranium that is close to weapons-grade fuel. Much of it is being produced in a mountain bunker in Fordow in northwestern Iran. Friday’s report claimed Iran already has enough enriched uranium to build four nuclear weapons, and the move of the operation to underground bunkers and a larger stockpile of uranium could shorten the time needed for Iran to develop a nuke. All this undermines the credibility of the claims put forward by Iran’s apologists that there is no proof of their intentions to make a bomb. As Frederick Kagan and Maseh Zarif write in today’s Wall Street Journal, “There is no case to be made that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapons capability. There is no evidence that Iran’s decision-makers are willing to stop the nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions or anything else.”
The IAEA report, which built upon the evidence in previous releases from the agency, makes all the more curious the efforts by the Obama administration to cast doubt upon the idea that Iran is working towards building a bomb. U.S. intelligence sources have been plying the mainstream press with spin about the data coming from Iran while even citing the long-discredited 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that claimed Iran had abandoned its weapons program. Given the volume of findings about Iran’s nuclear project and Tehran’s refusal to take steps that would reassure the international community they are not working toward a bomb, the Pollyanna-like faith that the Islamist regime poses no nuclear threat to the world is, at best, naive, and, at worst, a cynical attempt to prevent any Western or Israeli effort to forestall the danger.