Has Iran decided to build a nuclear bomb? That would seem to be the central question in the current bellicose debate over whether the world should simply cripple Iran's economy and inflict severe pain on its civilian population or launch a preemptive war to destroy its nuclear capability while possibly achieving "regime change."
And if you've been reading the New York Times or following the rest of the Fawning Corporate Media, you'd likely assume that everyone who matters agrees that the answer to the question is yes, although the FCM adds the caveat that Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. The line is included with an almost perceptible wink and an "oh, yeah."
However, a consensus seems to be emerging among the intelligence and military agencies of the United States -- and Israel -- that Iran has NOT made a decision to build a nuclear weapon. In recent days, that judgment has been expressed by high-profile figures in the defense establishments of the two countries -- U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
You might think that you would have heard more about that, wouldn't you? U.S. and Israel agree that Iran is NOT building a nuclear bomb. However, this joint assessment that Iran has NOT decided to build a nuclear bomb apparently represented too big a change in the accepted narrative for the Times and the rest of the FCM to process.
Yet, on Jan. 18, the day before U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey arrived for talks in Israel, Israeli Defense Minister Barak gave an interview to Israeli Army radio in which he addressed with striking candor how he assesses Iran's nuclear program. It was not the normal pabulum.
Question: Is it Israel's judgment that Iran has not yet decided to turn its nuclear potential into weapons of mass destruction?
Barak: ...confusion stems from the fact that people ask whether Iran is determined to break out from the control [inspection] regime right now ... in an attempt to obtain nuclear weapons or an operable installation as quickly as possible. Apparently that is not the case....
Question: How long will it take from the moment Iran decides to turn it into effective weapons until it has nuclear warheads?
Barak: I don't know; one has to estimate. ... Some say a year, others say 18 months. It doesn't really matter. To do that, Iran would have to announce it is leaving the [UN International Atomic Energy Agency] inspection regime and stop responding to IAEA's criticism, etc.
Why haven't they [the Iranians] done that? Because they realize that ... when it became clear to everyone that Iran was trying to acquire nuclear weapons, this would constitute definite proof that time is actually running out. This could generate either harsher sanctions or other action against them. They do not want that.
Question: Has the United States asked or demanded that the government inform the Americans in advance, should it decide on military action?
Barak: I don't want to get into that. We have not made a decision to opt for that, we have not decided on a decision-making date. The whole thing is very far off. ...
Question: You said the whole thing is "very far off." Do you mean weeks, months, years?
Barak: I wouldn't want to provide any estimates. It's certainly not urgent. I don't want to relate to it as though tomorrow it will happen.
As noted in my Jan. 19 article, "Israel Tamps Down Iran War Threats," which was based mostly on reports from the Israeli press before I had access to the complete transcript of the interview, I noted that Barak appeared to be identifying himself with the consistent assessment of U.S. intelligence community since late 2007 that Iran has not made a decision to go forward with a nuclear bomb.
A Momentous NIE