OP-ED: CLARE M. LOPEZ - METimes.com
OP-ED: CLARE M. LOPEZ
Published: December 04, 2007
Is the Bush administration abandoning Israel?
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili. (UPI Photo/Mohammad Kheirkhah
With the Dec. 3 release of the U.S. Intelligence Community's long-awaited National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, which claims that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons development program in 2003, Israel now stands very much alone to face the Iranian threat. The U.S. administration, in effect, has just thrown in the towel over Iran's geostrategic ambitions in the Middle East. Coming hard on the heels of the Annapolis charades, the NIE makes clear that the lame duck George W. Bush team has lost the will to defend either the existence of its ally Israel or even its own national security interests.
Accepting that the NIE is actually the collective genuine conclusion of the intelligence community and not some elaborate ruse of disinformation means accepting that the overwhelming evidence about Iran's nuclear weapons program revealed during the last several years was nothing but a chimera. Beginning with the August 2002 announcement by the Iranian opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), that Iran had concealed a clandestine nuclear weapons program for the preceding 14 years, through satellite confirmation that, indeed, the conversion plant at Isfahan, enrichment facilities at Natanz, plutonium processing center at Arak, and a host of other sites actually did exist, the world saw with its own eyes what Tehran's clerical regime never meant it to see. And now the intelligence community would have us all believe none of this was real after all?
In just one example of this program that is now not supposed to exist, after the NCRI revealed the existence of the Lavizan laser enrichment site near Tehran in 2004 (a full year after the NIE now says Iran's nuclear weapons program supposedly ended), the regime razed the site to the ground, removed the topsoil, and even yanked out every single tree in the vicinity in order to conceal any lingering traces of radioactivity. All equipment from that site was moved to a new site at Lavizan II, where the laser enrichment activity resumed.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) 2004 discovery of polonium inside Iran also would seem strong evidence that Iran was involved well past 2003 in the production of trigger systems for nuclear warheads. Corroboration of the IAEA's findings came from the NCRI, which detailed an ongoing program of polonium and berrylium acquisition by Iran. There are simply no other credible uses for these rare and expensive isotopes than warhead triggers. Even more recently, the November 2006 death of former KGB officer Andrei Litvinenko by self-ingested polonium blew the lid off a polonium smuggling operation that transited through London en route to Iran and other end users, including al-Qaida and the Chechens.
The decision by the director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, to release the unclassified conclusions of this NIE smacks strongly of the politicization of intelligence inside the intelligence community, a charge last leveled at Republicans before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This time, Bret Hume's Fox News Special Report on Dec. 3 noted that Senate Majority leader Harry Reid admitted that he and other leading Democrats had requested the assessment to head off what they perceived as the Bush administration's supposed march to war. According to Reid, he favors instead a "diplomatic surge" with Iran.
Given the overwhelming evidence, not only about Iran's clandestine nuclear weapons program, but its ongoing support for terrorism in the Middle East, destabilization of Lebanon's precarious democracy, provision of documentation, explosives, safe haven, and training for murderous militias that have been killing U.S. troops (and Iraqi civilians) inside Iraq, and implacable opposition to the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, it did seem for a time that the Bush administration was moving inexorably toward a decision to move against the Tehran regime. Such a move was anathema to elements within both the intelligence community and Department of State who remain desperate to create a legacy of diplomatic peacemaking in the Middle East. The absurdity of such an endeavor in the face of ongoing North Korean collusion on both the Syrian and Iranian nuclear weapons programs and Iran's ideologically inspired expansionist ambitions in the region seems lost on both Langley and Foggy Bottom.
The willingness of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to abandon Israel to its Islamist enemies (whom she somehow has gotten conflated with oppressed African Americans in the segregated South of her childhood) is alarming, and surely more so in Tel Aviv than Washington, DC. The publicity event staged in Annapolis in late November was lauded not only for its meager achievement of getting the Israelis and Palestinians to agree to talk again, but also as a demonstration of the ostensible unity of the so-called "moderate" Arab world in standing up to "extremism" - code for Iranian expansionist ambitions. But according to columnist Thomas Friedman, the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, made clear before he even arrived in Annapolis that there would be no handshakes with any Israelis. The full context of Saud's intent became clear on Dec. 3 when he walked into the opening ceremonies of the Gulf Cooperation Council meeting in Doha hand-in-hand with a beaming Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. So much for "moderate" Arabs standing up to Iranian hegemonic designs.
In the contest for influence between U.S.-backed liberal democracy and champion of radical Islamism Iran, guess who just emerged as the strong horse and who the weak horse? The Saudis seem to have it pretty well figured out. Doubtless the Israelis have, too. After their lightning raid on Syria's North Korean-built nuclear facility in September no one can doubt the Israelis' determination or capability to defend its right to exist. In light of its own failure of will to do the same, perhaps that's what the U.S. is counting on. Punt to Israel.
Clare Lopez is vice president of the Intelligence Summit and former executive director of the Iran Policy Committee, a Washington, think tank. She is a 20-year veteran operations officer of the CIA and currently speaks and publishes widely on issues related to the Middle East, counter-terrorism, and WMD.
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