An intelligence achievement
Only two intelligence services - those of Israel and the United States - stubbornly insisted for years that Iran was leading the world up the garden path. They discovered secret Iranian moves years ago.
Attacking the intelligence community has become almost a national sport in England and the United States - in the U.S., it has even become part of the election campaign. The barbs are aimed first of all at the war in Iraq and the period that led up to the war. With this frame of mind, it's not surprising that an important intelligence achievement - exposure of Iran's nuclear program - is being overlooked.
Intelligence failures usually become known to the public quite quickly, whereas intelligence successes for the most part remain secret for a long time, in order to conceal the methods by which they were achieved. The case of the Iranian nuclear project is unusual in this regard: For years the Iranians lied brazenly, totally denying that they were doing anything in violation of the conventions to which they were signatories.
Only two intelligence services - those of Israel and the United States - stubbornly insisted for years that Iran was leading the world up the garden path. They discovered secret Iranian moves years ago. The Americans sometimes displayed faint resolve when some of their experts argued that it was best to ignore the information and that the battle was lost. A positive exception was John Bolton, undersecretary for arms control and international security in the State Department. In Israel those who were derided as "panic-mongers," former deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh and former deputy director of Military Intelligence Amos Gilad, turned out to be right.
And then a rare event occurred. The Iranians suddenly decided to admit that they had been lying for years. They admitted that they had engaged in enriching uranium, had secretly acquired nuclear materials and had built secret facilities. The scope of their forbidden activity in the course of 18 years was larger than even the American and Israeli security services maintained or knew. For example, the Iranians enriched uranium in part with the use of lasers and not by centrifuges. The Iranians themselves announced this intelligence achievement in their admission to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Against the background of this success, it needs to be said that the compliments being meted out to the IAEA are exaggerated. Had it not been for the information the agency received from outside sources, and the firm American demands, it's doubtful whether its staff would have discovered anything on its own or whether they would have used tough language in their reports. This episode raises anew the question of the supervisory capability of the IAEA and its ability to prevent substantive violations of supervision agreements.
What led the Iranians to make their surprise announcement? There is no doubt about the contribution of the Europeans - Britain, France and Germany - to the debate. The turning point came when they told the Iranians that if they didn't reveal all, the Europeans would have to adopt the American position of seeking sanctions against Iran at the Security Council. More than 80 percent of Iran's trade is with Europe. The conclusion: Pressure is effective.
In the internal debate within Iran, only a small part of which has become public knowledge, the reformists accused the conservatives of responsibility for the nuclear entanglement. One of the arguments was that the government's possession of nuclear weapons would not guarantee the preservation of the regime, because these were two separate issues. Although the religious leader, Ali Khamenei, refrained from intervening in the debate, President Khatami demanded a compromise agreement that would ensure the flow of new technology to Iran. Other Iranians say that no matter what kind of regime is in power in their country, Iran will in the future need handsome allurements in order not to develop nuclear arms.
This marks the end of one chapter, or seems to, because it's still not clear what role Pakistan is playing in Iran's nuclear project. For Israel, the threat remains, though it has gained a time-out - and in the Middle East that's a lot.
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