Iran continues to make steady progress in stockpiling supplies of increasingly highly enriched uranium far above the quantities that it needs for its civilian nuclear program. Yet the Obama Administration maintains that Tehran has not yet decided whether to build a nuclear weapon.
This despite the fact that Iran continues to stonewall the investigations of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), defy multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions, and shrug off a growing list of international sanctions.
The Obama Administration’s optimistic reading of the state of Iran’s nuclear program is based on a highly controversial 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that assessed that Iran halted its weaponization efforts in 2003. The New York Times today reported that an intelligence crisis erupted in 2010 when the intelligence community wavered in its assessment only to reaffirm the 2007 NIE.
The U.S. intelligence community—which underestimated the speed of the nuclear breakouts by the Soviet Union, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea—continues to assess that Iran has frozen its nuclear weaponization efforts. Meanwhile, the IAEA, which has long remained cautious on the Iranian nuclear issue, released a report in November that cited evidence that Iran has recently experimented with the components of a nuclear weapon and worked on engineering studies for fitting a nuclear payload into Iran’s Shahab 3 ballistic missile.
Armed with the optimistic Iran NIE, the Obama Administration has pressed Israel to refrain from launching a preventive attack on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. This led to considerable tension ahead of the Obama–Netanyahu summit in early March.
One hopes that, despite the U.S. intelligence community’s spotty record in predicting the timetable of nuclear proliferators, it has kept accurate tabs on Iran’s nuclear program. But according to The New York Times, one former senior intelligence official admitted, “I’d say that I have about 75 percent confidence in the assessment that they [Iranians] haven’t restarted the program.”
It is little wonder that Israeli leaders remain concerned that the Obama Administration underestimates the urgency of Iran’s potential nuclear threat.