Israelis doubt Iran is constructing a nuclear weapon

Posted on January 21st, 2012 in General by Robert Miller

Strait of Hormuz (Wikipedia)

Last year, the drums of war began to beat as a result of supposedly new findings suggesting Iran had initiated a program for building a nuclear weapon. I previously wrote on the topic at the time and specifically pointed out the lack of hard evidence supporting such a conclusion: all of Iran’s known nuclear material was accounted for by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and none of our intelligence had produced unambiguous evidence that bomb construction was underway. Indeed, our own intelligence estimate as recently as 2010 concluded that Iran was not working on a bomb. Now it seems the Israelis have come to the same conclusion. An article published in Haaretz, a left-leaning Israeli newspaper, began with the following lead: “Israel believes Iran itself has not yet decided whether to make a nuclear bomb, according to intelligence assessment to be presented later this week to U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Dempsey.”

A good article summarizing the significance of this report can be found in Juan Cole’s Informed Comment.  When Iran responded to the new military threats and sanctions by threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz (through which 20% of the world’s oil supply flows) if conflict should break out, the Obama administration decided to ratchet down the threat level and perhaps the article in Haaretz reflects the Israeli willingness to do the same. Obama faces a very tight election this year and does not want to see the cost of oil go up by the Iranians following through with their threats. He also apparently expressed his deep dissatisfaction with the Israelis over the recent assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist.  Now if we can get Mitt Romney to stop fanning the flames of war  against Iran and lower the tension by a couple of decibels, we might be able to have an election without starting a war in the Middle East. We are truly a gifted nation when it comes to starting wars–we don’t have a problem mobilizing the popular support needed to take us into war–but it’s ending them that seems to give us great difficulty. At least for now perhaps the tension between Iran and the United States/Israel can be lowered and the rhetoric of war eliminated.  Our departure from Iraq has served to reduce friction between the U.S. and Iran, but until we have a peace agreement among the Palestinians and the Israelis, the region will always be a flashpoint. The right wing Likud government in Israel is always sounding the alarm about Iran and we have the habit of believing their intelligence more than we do our own.  The full impact of the Arab Spring has yet to achieve a steady state in the region. But that event also reflects joblessness and economic hardship together with trends in food prices and this is a long and deep economic recession. Each time we increase the tension between the U.S. and Iran, we enhance the position of the hard-line ruling clerics and diminish the prospects of bringing the full-throated Arab Spring to that country. This is the same mechanism we used to prolong the Cold War.

Whenever we attach the word “war” to a conflict, like the “war on drugs” or the “war on terror (ism?)”, we tend to make them into a new version of a never-ending story. Imagine how different it would be if be used the label “skirmish on drugs” or “conflict against terror (ism?).” Wouldn’t those terminology examples make it easier to know when to quit? The word “war” seems to demand a winner and a loser, something we rarely achieve or if we achieved it in Iraq, for example, we did so by utterly destroying their culture and devastating millions of lives–all innocent victims of our shock and awe strategy of warfare. But, when confronted with a “skirmish,” it seems more like a cease fire until you can get the whole thing straightened out by some sort of agreement. I am in favor of any congressional act that would outlaw the use of “war” and reserve that for those circumstances where our nation is truly imperiled by circumstances we didn’t create for ourselves. That would mean we can’t have war against terrorism or a war on drugs or a war on obesity. Furthermore we should extend the ruling so that a President cannot make a judgement about whether a conflict should be viewed as “war.” Like the Constitution, only Congress can declare war. With those rules in hand, we might be able to bring to a much faster resolution the conflicts and wars we start by emphasizing that a war by any other name is a “skirmish,”  and if you lose, it will only be a blemish on your war record, nothing more serious.


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