David Horovitz, the Jerusalem Post’s editor, writes an editorial about the 180 degree shift by the man in charge of the US National Intelligence Estimate that recently proclaimed Iran’s nuclear activities to have gone into moratorium. Whoops, he was wrong. Now that he’s said so for the record, the media is ignoring the story…even as Iran plows ahead in developing their nukes.

Michael McConnell, the man responsible for the US National Intelligence Estimate that two months ago essentially cleared Iran of pursuing a nuclear bomb, backtracked last week.

In testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on February 5, the admiral vouchsafed that, in hindsight, “I think I would change the way that we described [the Iranian] nuclear program.”

Here’s the very first sentence of that immensely ballyhooed NIE, which was greeted rapturously by Iran and with horror in Israel when it was published in early December: “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Teheran halted its nuclear weapons program.”

What McConnell is now saying amounts to the very opposite: Yes, runs the amended narrative, we think the Iranians may have halted what we narrowly, foolishly and misleadingly defined as their nuclear weapons program four years ago, we’re not sure if they’ve restarted it, but the fact is that we led you all astray with our definition of that program in the first place.

You see, the new line continues, weapon design and weaponization – those narrow aspects that might have been halted – really constitute the “least significant portion” of a nuclear weapons program. In retrospect, we should have relied on more than a footnote to make that clear. The “most difficult challenge” is actually “uranium enrichment [to] enable the production of fissile material,” and, as we probably should have stressed more prominently, work on that is proceeding apace.

Citing the “persistent threat of WMD-related proliferation,” McConnell told the Committee that “Iran continues to pursue fissile material and nuclear-capable missile delivery systems.” He then elaborated: “Iranian entities are continuing to develop a range of technical capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons. Iran continues its efforts to develop uranium enrichment technology, which can be used both for power reactor fuel and to produce nuclear weapons. And, as noted, Iran continues to deploy ballistic missiles inherently capable of delivering nuclear weapons, and to develop longer-range missiles.”

Typifying the American media’s entirely indifferent coverage of McConnell’s volte face last week, the Times did not so much as headline it at all – not on page one, and not on any other page, either. Rather, it buried what it called McConnell’s belated “calibration” of the NIE’s thrust, encapsulated in a few paragraphs, deep inside an article that headlined comments he made in the same Senate appearance about al-Qaida’s improving ability to strike within the US.

When the original, exculpatory NIE was published, Iran’s would-be-Israel-eliminating President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hailed “victory,” the international sanctions effort stalled, Russia began shipping fuel to the reactor it had built for the Iranians at Bushehr and Ahmadinejad’s regime merrily intensified its declared centrifuge installations and operations at Natanz. Meanwhile, President Bush found himself accused by political rivals and other critics of having unwarrantably, even dishonestly, overhyped the threat posed by Iran. Some of the more hysterical voices went so far as to charge that his administration had been deliberately skewing the intelligence on Iran’s nuclear drive to justify thrusting the United States into another unnecessary war.

McConnell’s barely noticed reversal has changed none of that. It has done nothing to dent Ahmadinejad’s public confidence that nobody is going to stop the Iranian drive now, and nothing to suggest to Iran that it need halt what McConnell acknowledged last week was the range of dual-purpose activities that daily bring it ever-closer to a nuclear weapons capability.

Horovitz retells the story of former head of IDF Military Intelligence, Aharon Ze’evi-Farkash, who gave a blistering talk shortly after the NIE came out, rejecting its premises.

In contrast to the NIE’s headline-making opening assertion, Ze’evi-Farkash said flatly, “The Iranian clandestine military program is continuing.” Furthermore, he said bitterly, the NIE’s “distinction between military and civilian programs is artificial,” since the open, undisputed enrichment of uranium “is critical to both.” As for the massive ongoing funding of Iran’s missile program, he stressed, that could only bespeak the darkest of intentions, since “no other country would invest so many billions of dollars in surface-to-surface missile programs without nuclear military intentions.”

The American Admiral is now in agreement with these ideas and facts but it’s not as if he’s out there doing Oprah and Wolf Blitzer interviews to get the word out. Nobody is. The Iranians have moved ahead aggressively with their program, the Russians have supplied them with fuel for their reactors, they keep improving their delivery systems and the US government is unable to do a thing because public perception is that the intelligence community cleared Iran of nuclear weapon development. And it’s not as if Israel is the only target here just because the Iranian president promised that Israel will be destroyed, iranian missiles can reach Europe and are apparently almost at a point where they can reach the US. If they can’t get there, maybe they’ll just sell some to Chavez. He’s closer. Either way, within a short period, no Western country, including the US, will be able to make a strategic decision regarding certain parts of the world without consideration of Iran’s nuclear arsenal and delivery systems. For this, in part, we have to thank whoever was responsible for this last NIE.

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  • But what are the Iranians doing with the uranium enrichment plant then they’ve already got? A buddy in the USAF once showed me aerial photos of it on a publicly accessible website. I’ll try to find the link again.

  • You’re right, Middle, the media is ignoring the story, and it seems of a piece with their infatuation with the Obama campaign– in which never is heard a discouraging, or even sobering, word about the enemies the US faces abroad. Leon Wieseltier has a trenchant column on this in the current (I think) New Republic.

    The American public is tired of Iran, Iraq, the ‘war on terror’– though one wonders what would happen if Bin Laden reared his ugly head again.

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