In flip-flop, U.S. says Iran may be able to make nukes by next year (& more stonings in Iran)

February 11, 2008

* US intelligence chief appears to reverse NIE report but The New York Times and other liberal media refuse to report this prominently
* McCain repeats pledge: I will not allow a nuclear Iran
* Two women sentenced to be stoned to death in Iran last week for non-existent crimes: Where are the Western feminists? Where is the UN?
* The price of a drink: Iranian sentenced to hang for drinking alcohol



1. In flip-flop, U.S. says Iran may be able to make nukes by 2009
2. Western media implicit in downplaying Iranian nuclear threat?
3. Much damage already done by the NIE
4. Reuters: Iran testing advanced centrifuges
5. The Mossad: “Iran is the biggest threat to Israel”

6. McCain repeats pledge: I will not allow a nuclear Iran
7. McFarlane: “To choose a president without vital foreign policy experience is to invite disaster”
8. Syria and Iran in confrontation with Lebanon, says Hariri
9. More advanced Iranian arms for Syria, and for Hamas

10. Two women sentenced to be stoned
11. Iranian sentenced to death for drinking alcohol
12. Renewed persecution of Bahá’ís in Iran
13. China invites Ahmadinejad to Olympics

14. “Iranian Nuclear Rewrite” (Feb. 8, 2008, Wall Street Journal)
15. “Correcting the CIA” (Feb. 7, 2008, New York Sun)
16. “Explosive Recipe” (Feb. 5, 2008, Investor’s Business Daily)

[All notes below by Tom Gross]

This dispatch contains various items on Iran, and is a follow-up to many previous dispatches on Iran, including:
British intelligence: Israelis are right, U.S. is wrong; Iran is rushing to acquire nukes (Dec. 11, 2007);
Ahmadinejad doesn’t want a nuclear bomb? Just like there are no gays in Iran? (Dec. 6, 2007)

Since those dispatches, French intelligence has also said it concurs with Israeli and British assessments that Iran has not frozen its plan to produce an A-bomb.



Appearing to overturn the Dec. 3, 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), the head of American intelligence has warned that Iran “would be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon” by the end of next year.

Two months after an American NIE report cast doubt on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, National Intelligence Director John Michael McConnell told the Senate Intelligence Committee last week that Iran might be an imminent nuclear threat after all.

McConnell noted that Iran is developing both the long-range ballistic missiles capable of hitting North Africa and Europe, and the nuclear fuel for a potential weapon. The Iranians have already continued to enrich uranium in the open in Natanz in defiance of two UN Security Council resolutions.


It is of great concern that since McConnell made the remarks last week the world media hasn’t given them nearly as much prominence as when the NIE report was released two months ago. The NIE report effectively made it politically impossible for the Bush administration to take decisive action against Iran before it is too late.

And yet only a few lines about McConnell’s new testimony on the Iranian nuclear threat appeared in The New York Times last week, and those were buried in a story that focused on the improvements al-Qaeda has been making in its ability to strike the U.S. The Times and other leftist media had given much front page prominence to the NIE report in December.

(As I have argued in detail several times on this website before, the acquisition of a nuclear arsenal by the Islamic Republic of Iran, together with the resulting nuclear arms race among other unstable Middle Eastern powers, will, I believe, be by far the most dangerous world event since the Second World War.)

As leading Democrat Senator Evan Bayh (Hillary Clinton’s National Campaign Co-Chair) pointed out at the Senate hearing, the NIE “had unintended consequences that, in my own view, are damaging to the national security interests of our country.”

Senator Bayh is no neocon, but he sees the very real threat of Iran. His remarks differ sharply from those of Senator Barack Obama who welcomed the NIE findings in December and warned against contemplating any decisive action against Iran.


Two newspapers that have noticed Admiral McConnell’s new statements are the conservative-leaning Wall Street Journal and The New York Sun. I attach their editorials about the subject in the “Full Articles” section below.

The Wall Street Journal (“Iranian Nuclear Rewrite”) acknowledges that McConnell’s testimony amounts to a reversal of the previous NIE judgment. But, notes the Journal, the damage has already been done:

“It was little wonder that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad quickly called the NIE a ‘declaration of victory’ for Iran’s nuclear programs. Diplomatic efforts to pass a third round of UN economic sanctions ground to a crawl, though another weak draft resolution is currently making the rounds. Russia decided to ship nuclear fuel to the reactor it has built for Iran at Bushehr, a move it had previously postponed for months and which has worrisome proliferation risks.”

The New York Sun editorial (“Correcting the CIA”) points out that after the NIE report “the left could barely contain its glee. The New York Times featured a front page analysis that said, ‘Rarely, if ever, has a single intelligence report so completely, so suddenly, and so surprisingly altered a foreign policy debate here.’ The Majority Leader, Senator Reid took the opportunity of its release to call again for a “surge of diplomacy with Iran.’ Senator Obama said, ‘The juxtaposition of this NIE with the president’s suggestion of World War III serves as an important reminder of what we learned with the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq: members of Congress must carefully read the intelligence before giving the President any justification to use military force.’”



Reuters reports the following last Thursday:

Iran is testing an advanced centrifuge at its Natanz nuclear complex, a move that could lead to Tehran enriching uranium much faster and gaining the means to build atom bombs. Iran had 3,000 P-1 centrifuges working by November, but only at an estimated 10% of capacity.

Diplomats tracking Iran said it had started mechanical tests of a more efficient P-2 model, which is designed to enrich uranium 2-3 times faster.

“I believe this is a disturbing development,” said David Albright, head of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security and an ex-UN weapons inspector.



Iran’s nuclear offensive remains the central strategic threat to Israel, Mossad head Meir Dagan told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee last week.

This is not only because it is striving to attain nuclear weapons as fast as possible but also because of its influence on other imminent threats, including Hamas, Hizbullah and Syria.

Iran is acting on two tracks, Dagan said, one towards the enrichment of uranium and the other towards manufacturing surface-to-surface missiles with large payloads. He claimed that Iran had not yet attained full control of the knowledge necessary to produce weapons-grade uranium, but was not far from reaching this benchmark point.

Iran, he said, was upgrading its relationship with Syria, especially with regards to the transfer of information, and was supplying the Palestinians with weapons, technology and training, especially in the Gaza Strip. He claimed that Iranian assistance would improve the range of the rockets that the Palestinians could fire into Israel.

Dagan added that the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) made it harder to impose sanctions on Iran. It “pulls the rug out from under” diplomatic efforts to thwart the Iranian nuclear program, “leaving Israel to face the threat alone,” he said.



Republican presidential favorite Senator John McCain has made a major speech (to CPAC, on February 7, 2008) following his victories on “Super Tuesday” in which he again spoke out forcibly on the Iranian issue.

He said: “Neither Senator Clinton nor Senator Obama will recognize and seriously address the threat posed by an Iran with nuclear ambitions to our ally, Israel, and the region. I intend to make unmistakably clear to Iran we will not permit a government that espouses the destruction of the State of Israel as its fondest wish and pledges undying enmity to the United States to possess the weapons to advance their malevolent ambitions.”

On Iraq, McCain said:

“There is no other candidate for this office who appreciates more than I do just how awful war is. But I know that the costs in lives and treasure we would incur should we fail in Iraq will be far greater than the heartbreaking losses we have suffered to date. And I will not allow that to happen.”



Robert McFarlane, who served as President Reagan’s national security adviser, has strongly criticized Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter and other right-wingers for their attacks on Senator McCain:

Writing in The Wall Street Journal over the weekend, McFarlane said:

“Notwithstanding the reversal of trends in Iraq of a year ago, we face a long and difficult struggle in the war to turn back the nihilistic crusade being waged by radical Islam. By my reckoning after 25 visits to Pakistan, over a half-million adolescents willing to blow themselves up have ‘graduated’ from more than 1,000 Wahabbist madrassas in that country.

“Both Afghanistan and Pakistan are on the threshold of sinking into violent chaos as failed states unless new, experienced American leadership can conceive and launch an effective strategy – and convince allies to join in its execution – to turn matters around and cut off the Taliban and al Qaeda at their roots. Such a victory is feasible under competent leadership by introducing a classical counterinsurgency strategy.

“Concurrent with the conflict on the battlefield, the new administration must tackle the complex task of fostering long-term economic and political stability in these forlorn countries. Here again, such a strategy is complex but not difficult to conceive. Its successful execution is only imaginable, however, in the hands of a knowledgeable, experienced leader – who enjoys respect among allies – who will be sorely needed to win this struggle.

“Clearly John McCain fits the bill. To choose anyone without the vital knowledge, experience and leadership skills for this role is to invite disaster.”

* Tom Gross adds: regarding the Democratic Party candidates, there is no question that, to judge by her recent pronouncements, Hillary Clinton much better understands the Iranian threat (and other issues regarding the Middle East and terrorism) than the incredibly naïve – and thereby dangerous – pronouncements of Barack Obama.



Saad al-Hariri, the leader of Lebanon’s pro-Western majority in parliament, said on Thursday that Lebanon was in direct confrontation with Syria and Iran, which were encouraging Hizbullah to undermine the unity of Lebanon.

Hariri, the son of Lebanon’s assassinated former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, said Syria and Iran and “their local tools” were seeking to “impose a terror, security and political siege” on Lebanon.

It is very rare for politicians in Lebanon to dare to openly criticize the Iranian regime.



Syria has successfully developed a new surface-to-surface missile that would enable it to target Israeli installations such as airports, ports and factories with greater accuracy, reports Ha’aretz, quoting unnamed Israeli intelligence officials.

According to the report, Iran has shared technical know-how with the Assad regime that has allowed Syria to upgrade the Iranian-made Zelzal surface-to-surface missile. The missile has an operational range of approximately 250 kilometers and is capable of carrying very large warheads.

Damascus has also procured modern anti-tank missiles with alleged capabilities of neutralizing the most advanced main battle tank of the IDF, the Merkava Mark IV.

Syria already has a significant missile arsenal. During the 2006 Lebanon War, Hizbullah fired hundreds of volleys of Syrian 220mm rockets across the border, causing significant casualties in Israel.

Syria has tens of thousands of rockets of this type, as well as smaller-caliber and shorter-range missiles. In addition, they have Scud-C and Scud-D ballistic missiles with ranges of 500-800 kilometers, which can effectively strike every part of Israel.



Israel claims the Islamic Republic has armed Hamas with Nour rockets, according to this report (in Farsi, February 8, 2008).



Two sisters – identified only as Zohreh and Azar – were last week convicted of adultery and sentenced to be stoned to death by the Iranian Supreme Court. Just in case anyone doesn’t realize this, the practice of stoning is excruciatingly painful for the victim.

Adultery is a crime punishable by death in Iran, in accordance with the regime’s interpretation of Islamic Sharia law. The two sisters deny the charge.

Zohreh and Azar have already received 99 lashes for “illegal relations.” Yet they were tried again for the same crime, and convicted of adultery on the evidence of a videotape that showed them in the presence of other men while their husbands were absent. The video does not show either of them engaging in any sexual activity at all.

A few journalists and Amnesty International have issued statements condemning the miscarriage of justice and the sentence. But the silence of the mainstream Western feminist organizations and of the so-called liberal media commentators is deafening.

Powerful liberal institutions such as The New York Times can make a difference if they bother to report properly on these matters.

See, for example, the fourth item in the dispatch: The NY Times and the Saudi gang-rape victim story: Better late than never. That was a follow-up to my dispatch of over six months earlier: Saudi gang-rape victim gets 90 lashes for International Women’s Day (March 8, 2007).

After the Times finally reported on this story, Hillary Clinton and others raised it, and the Saudi regime commuted the sentence. While not having the same influence over Iran as it does over Saudi Arabia, that is no excuse for Western liberals for not trying.



A young Iranian man has been sentenced to hang for repeatedly drinking, the Etemad newspaper reported on Wednesday. There is a strict ban on alcohol in Islamic Iran.

The 22-year-old, identified only as Mohsen, was handed down the death penalty by a criminal court after being found guilty of drinking alcohol for a fourth time.

The young man had expressed his repentance in a letter, but the judges of Branch 72 of the Tehran penal court sentenced him to death. “The defendant in this case has been sentenced to hang until he is dead,” announced Judge Jalil Jalili.

The usual punishment for a single drinking offence is 80 lashes, according to Iran’s penal code, which is based in Islamic sharia law.

Iran has seen an upsurge in executions in recent months as the authorities implement a campaign which they say is aimed at improving security in society. There are no recent records of any people being hanged in Iran for drinking alcohol.

Agence France Presse and one or two other news outlets (including Radio Farda) have reported on this story, which is again being ignored or downgraded by most other Western media.



There are reports today that the persecution of Bahá’ís has once again intensified in Iran. (In Farsi here.)

In recent years, I have on several occasions criticized the Western media for barely ever mentioning the oppression of Bahá’ís in Iran and elsewhere.

Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, hundreds of innocent Iranian Bahá’ís have been executed. Thousands have had their homes ransacked or been banned from attending university or holding government jobs, and several hundred have received prison sentences for participating in Bahá’í study circles. Bahá’í cemeteries have been desecrated and their holy sites destroyed.

International media organizations, which never tire of criticizing Israel, the country with by far the freest media in the Middle East, have failed to criticize in any meaningful way the incitement against Bahá’ís in the Iranian media. Nor, unsurprisingly, has the UN.

For example, in November 2005 the influential state-run Kayhan newspaper, whose managing editor is appointed by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, ran nearly three dozen articles defaming the Bahá’í faith and whipping up hatred against them.

Persecution of Bahá’ís in Egypt has also increased in recent years. Many Bahá’ís have fled to Israel, where they enjoy freedom from attack. One of their holiest shrines is located in Haifa, where the Israeli state protects it.

For more background in English, see here and here.



A senior Iranian official says China has officially invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to attend Beijing’s 2008 Olympic Games, reports the Tehran Times.

This year’s summer Olympics will be held from August 8 to 24.

-- Tom Gross



Iranian Nuclear Rewrite
The Wall Street Journal (Editorial)
February 8, 2008

Give Admiral Michael McConnell credit for trying to walk back the cat. Questioned this week by the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Director of National Intelligence defended the “integrity and the professionalism” of the process that produced last December’s stunning National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear program. Yet his testimony amounts to a reversal of the previous judgment.

The December NIE made headlines the world over for its “key judgment” that in 2003 “Tehran halted its nuclear weapons programs” – programs that previously had been conducted in secret and in violation of Iran’s Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligations.

This was a “high confidence” judgment, though the intelligence community had only “moderate confidence” that the program hasn’t since been restarted. The NIE also waded into speculative political and policy judgments, such as that “Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs.”

So it was little wonder that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad quickly called the NIE a “declaration of victory” for Iran’s nuclear programs. Diplomatic efforts to pass a third round of U.N. economic sanctions ground to a crawl, though another weak draft resolution is currently making the rounds. Russia decided to ship nuclear fuel to the reactor it has built for Iran at Bushehr, a move it had previously postponed for months and which has worrisome proliferation risks.

Elsewhere, the NIE complicated U.S. efforts to deploy an antiballistic-missile shield in Central Europe. The Israelis worried that the report signaled the death of American seriousness on Iran, possibly requiring them to act alone. At home, Democrats used the NIE to accuse the Administration of hyping intelligence. “It’s absolutely clear and eerily similar to what we saw with Iraq,” said John Edwards.

Now Admiral McConnell is clearly trying to repair the damage, even if he can’t say so directly. “I think I would change the way that we described [the] nuclear program,” he admitted to Evan Bayh (D., Ind.) during the hearing, adding that weapon design and weaponization were “the least significant portion” of a nuclear weapons program.

He expressed some regret that the authors of the NIE had left it to a footnote to explain that the NIE’s definition of “nuclear weapons program” meant only its design and weaponization and excluded its uranium enrichment. And he agreed with Mr. Bayh’s statement that it would be “very difficult” for the U.S. to know if Iran had recommenced weaponization work, and that “given their industrial and technological capabilities, they are likely to be successful” in building a bomb.

The Admiral went even further in his written statement. Gone is the NIE’s palaver about the cost-benefit approach or the sticks-and-carrots by which the mullahs may be induced to behave. Instead, the new assessment stresses that Iran continues to press ahead on enrichment, “the most difficult challenge in nuclear production.” It notes that “Iran’s efforts to perfect ballistic missiles that can reach North Africa and Europe also continue” – a key component of a nuclear weapons capability.

Then there is the other side of WMD: “We assess that Tehran maintains dual-use facilities intended to produce CW [Chemical Warfare] agent in times of need and conducts research that may have offensive applications.” Ditto for biological weapons, where “Iran has previously conducted offensive BW agent research and development,” and “continues to seek dual-use technologies that could be used for biological warfare.”

All this merely confirms what has long been obvious about Iran’s intentions. No less importantly, his testimony underscores the extent to which the first NIE was at best a PR fiasco, at worst a revolt by intelligence analysts seeking to undermine current U.S. policy. As we reported at the time, the NIE was largely the work of State Department alumni with track records as “hyperpartisan anti-Bush officials,” according to an intelligence source. They did their job too well. As Senator Bayh pointed out at the hearing, the NIE “had unintended consequences that, in my own view, are damaging to the national security interests of our country.” Mr. Bayh is not a neocon.

Admiral McConnell’s belated damage repair ought to refocus world attention on Iran’s very real nuclear threat. Too bad his NIE rewrite won’t get anywhere near the media attention that the first draft did.



Correcting the CIA
The New York Sun (Editorial)
February 7, 2008

What a difference two months make. On December 3, when the director of national intelligence released an estimate of Iran’s nuclear program that said the Mullahs had suspended its bomb making in 2003, the left could barely contain its glee. The New York Times featured a front page analysis that said, “Rarely, if ever, has a single intelligence report so completely, so suddenly, and so surprisingly altered a foreign policy debate here.” The Majority Leader, Senator Reid took the opportunity of its release to call again for a “surge of diplomacy with Iran.” Senator Obama said, “The juxtaposition of this NIE with the president’s suggestion of World War III serves as an important reminder of what we learned with the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq: members of Congress must carefully read the intelligence before giving the President any justification to use military force.”

Careful, indeed. It turns out that on Tuesday, as our Eli Lake reported on page one of yesterday’s Sun, the director of national intelligence, Mr. McConnell says he now regrets the phrasing of the unclassified estimate that so stirred America’s enthusiasts of diplomacy. In testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Mr. McConnell went further. He noted that Iran is developing both the long range ballistic missiles and the nuclear fuel for a potential weapon. What had halted, it turns out, was work to design the actual warhead and secret enrichment activity. The Iranians continued to enrich uranium in the open in Natanz in defiance of two Security Council resolutions.

As for the secret enrichment and weapons design, Mr. McConnell is not even sure as of mid-2007 whether the Iranians have restarted this work. “We assess with moderate confidence that Tehran had not restarted these activities as of mid-2007, but since they comprised an unannounced secret effort which Iran attempted to hide, we do not know if these activities have been restarted,” he told the assembled senators. So why then did the opening sentence of the December 3 assessment state with no equivocation, “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program”? Mr. McConnell said that it was because he had to assemble quickly a declassified estimate in late November and that it did not occur to him that this kind of declarative statement would confuse the issue.

For the unelected intelligence bureaucrats who pushed through December’s distortion and the newspapers that cheered them on, the walk back from the director is a serious blow. It’s hard to recall a situation quite like it. Only a few lines about Mr. McConnell’s testimony on this point appeared in yesterday’s New York Times, and that was buried in a story that focused on the improvements Al Qaeda has been making in its ability to strike the home front. Yet for a brief moment the unclassified assessment about which Mr. McConnell now has regrets ended political debate about the urgency of stopping the world’s leading sponsor of Islamic terror from obtaining an apocalyptic arsenal.

It’s a lesson to remember. Mr. McConnell’s regrets came in questioning from Senator Bayh, a Democrat from Indiana who once harbored hopes of running for president before his party was taken over by the likes of Mr. Bayh cited an article about the estimate that was issued Tuesday by the Wall Street Journal and written by John Bolton, the man accused three years ago, when President Bush nominated him to be ambassador to the United Nations, of intimidating all those intelligence professionals. We’d like to think Mr. McConnell’s correction will steer the American debate on how best to counter the threat from the Iranians away from the aspirations of our professional diplomats and spies to appease them and back toward an unvarnished view of the danger that is building in Iran.



Explosive Recipe
Investor’s Business Daily (Editorial)
February 5, 2008

Nuclear Terrorism: What happens when an Islamofascist state gets the bomb and the White House falls into the hands of a president who thinks such enemies can be defeated with diplomacy? We shudder to think.

The director of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency on Monday reported that Iran will develop a nuclear weapon within three years. So without military action from the U.S. or Israel against Tehran’s nuclear facilities, whoever is elected president later this year will be left with solving the global problem of an atomic terrorist state in the Middle East.

If that person is either of the two front-runners for the Democratic nomination, it could spell unprecedented danger. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama seem committed to the magic powers of negotiating a deal with Iran’s fanatical mullahs — and surrounding them are “experts” who agree.

Both candidates favor direct negotiations at once. Sen. Obama’s foreign policy adviser, Susan Rice of the Brookings Institution, an assistant secretary of state under President Bill Clinton, gave a possible preview in a 2004 article in the Washington Post.

“At the bargaining table,” she wrote, “the United States could dangle various incentives the Iranians might find attractive. For instance, in exchange for a full and verifiable halt to Iran’s nuclear program as well as termination of its support for terrorism and anti-U.S. elements in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States could offer to lift U.S. sanctions, normalize relations, pay some Iranian claims against the United States, promote new trade and investment flows, allow Iranian membership in the World Trade Organization, guarantee access to civilian nuclear power or provide regional security guarantees.”

Another Obama foreign consultant, Samantha Power of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, recently advised “refraining from redundant reminders that military force is still ‘on the table,’ which only strengthen the hand of hard-line Islamists and nationalists.”

Instead, she recommended “trying high-level political negotiations.” It’s true, Power allows, “that earlier attempts at engagement have produced few dividends. But what negotiations can do is diminish perceptions of U.S. arrogance.”

Sen. Clinton may be viewed as more hawkish than Obama, but how true is that perception? Her Iran experts, Ray Takeyh and Vali Nasr, recommend “engagement as a means of achieving a more pluralistic and responsible government in Tehran.”

They have written that “to liberalize the theocratic state, the United States would do better to ... embark on a policy of unconditional dialogue and sanctions relief. A reduced American threat would deprive the hard-liners of the conflict they need to justify their concentration of power.”

Often mentioned as possible secretary of state in a Hillary Clinton administration is Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a supposed hawk who has done his share of huffing and puffing about the Iran threat.

But after last December’s National Intelligence Estimate downplaying that threat, Ari Berman of the leftist Nation magazine elicited a telling comment from the veteran of the Carter State Department. “I thought even pre-NIE,” Holbrooke told Berman, “that there was no justification for a military strike.”

Americans have a lot to consider when they cast their votes this year. Nothing, however, is more important than what man or woman sitting in the Oval Office is more likely to prevent an atomic war in the Mideast or the incineration of a U.S. city by a terrorist sleeper cell.

This year a president could be elected who thinks talk can conquer that threat.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.