The end of the military option
WASHINGTON - "An intelligence consensus is difficult to challenge with new data," wrote Judge Richard Posner in his book "Preventing Surprise Attack," which deals with the necessary reforms in American intelligence services post-9/11.
Intelligence officers, like anyone else, "are reluctant to change their minds" and admit they made a mistake or were caught by surprise. So the U.S. intelligence services should be given credit for trying to correct their mistake. Meanwhile, it should be remembered that correcting a mistake with another mistake makes it all the more difficult to change one's mind the next time.
Israel's ambassador to Washington, Sallai Meridor, spent the weekend warning about Iran's nuclear program. Meanwhile, Israel knew about the report that was to be released, but Meridor warned in no uncertain terms that "time is running out." Either way, the official report blew up in his face: Time is not running out, the Iranians are not making progress, and Israel may come to be seen as a panic-stricken rabbit.
The debate surrounding this report's conclusions will be substantial, and many will assume that its authors have failed in gathering or interpreting the intelligence out there. A psychological interpretation will also be thrown into the pot, discounting the conclusions. The same intelligence that warned of Saddam Hussein's non-conventional arsenal is now making the opposite, deadly error in relation to Iran. The Americans will find themselves surprised like they did when they learned of the Indian and Pakistani bombs.
Professionals will now argue passionately, continuing the debates between Israel's assessment (an Iranian bomb in 2009-2010) and the American one (a bomb in 2012-2013).
The Americans failed to explain yesterday how they reached their new conclusions. As such, the general public will find it difficult to decide who is right. Maybe in the future, when there suddenly really is a bomb in play, or maybe not - a decision on this can be final. Meanwhile, Israeli intelligence has adopted the "most severe" approach, but the American decision maker is only affected by the Americans writing the assessment.
It does not really matter. However successful or flawed this report may be, there is a new, dramatic reality, in all aspects of the struggle against the Iranian bomb: The military option, American or Israeli, is off the table, indefinitely.