We must asses the overall behavior of a state; regarding Iran, this behavior is negative. While Iran is continuing to develop a missile program it is also involved in terror, and its age-old plans for sabotage in the region.
From interview by Defense Minister Ehud Barak to The Washington Post (26 Jan 2008):
Q: You were critical of the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran.
A: Our interpretation is that clearly the Iranians are aiming at nuclear capability. It’s probably true that … they may have slowed down the weapons group in 2003, because it was the height of American militarism…. We think that they are quite advanced, much beyond the level of the Manhattan Project. We suspect they are probably already working on warheads for ground-to-ground missiles … [and] that probably they have another clandestine enrichment operation beyond the one in Natanz.
Q: What kind?
A: The dots that we see … cannot be easily connected in a way that does not lead to a nuclear program…. The leading intelligence communities should concentrate on finding whether there is … a clandestine enrichment operation and a weapons group working on the weapons technology.
Q: Do you think the Americans will fail to take action as a result of the National Intelligence Estimate?
A: Clearly the NIE reduced the enthusiasm even for tougher sanctions. Basically, in strategic terms, we face a triad of challenges: one, radical Muslim terror; two, nuclear proliferation; and [three] rogue states. To deal with such threats … we need a much deeper and more intimate cooperation between the United States, the E.U., Russia and China. And this needs a paradigm shift in the way we approach China and Russia.
Q: Does Israel have the ability to conduct a military raid on Iran alone?
A: I am not going to talk about this.
Assessing Iran’s Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities
8th Herzliya Conference (22 Jan 2008):
Summary of remarks by Aaron Abramovich, Director-General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
The year 2008 is a decisive one for the international community, in that it will be a year in which the international community will be challenged to have their abilities meet their decisions.
The NIE Report established that Iran has not renewed its nuclear plans in 2007, although it has the necessary technological knowledge to establish nuclear ability.
In order to acquire nuclear weapons, there are some prerequisites: uranium enrichment and means for launching them. Recently, there has been debate about whether Iran has plans for these two elements. Although there is still controversy regarding the answer to this debate, in our eyes Iran is advancing in vigorous steps.
We must asses the overall behavior of a state; regarding Iran, this behavior is negative. While some of Iran’s behavior is viewed by the international community as negative, some of Iran’s behavior is not. The Foreign Ministry is attempting to bring the overall negative behavior of Iran to the attention of the international community.
While Iran is continuing to develop a missile program it is also involved in terror, and its age-old plans for sabotage in the region. In cooperation with Syria, Iran donates to the armament and training of Hizbullah. Today, Hizbullah has intentions against both Israel and against the government of Lebanon. At the same time, Iran also arms the Hamas, and Hamas is also known to be fighting both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Additionally, Iran is "busy" with anti-Semitism. Iran organizes conferences to deny the Holocaust in a systematic manner despite international pressure.
In Iran there are incredible violations of human rights; this is a matter that illustrates the negative image of Iran’s behavior but does not earn enough attention from the international community.
The Iranian call to destroy the State of Israel is a subject that the international community has dealt with considerably, but apparently not enough. The decisions of the international community are not sufficient in that they cannot cause Iran to stop acting on its every whim.
It seems that economic sanctions have been more successful since in their wake there has been somewhat of a change within Iran. Iran is not indifferent to economic sanctions.
The combinations of Security Council decisions and economic sanctions could create change if they are intensified.
It has already been said that Israel will not accept a nuclear Iran; we believe that the entire international community cannot accept a nuclear Iran.
The failure of the international community would be a failure with horrific ramifications in it signifying a failure of the NPT, a failure of the Security Council and U.N., and a failure of the IAEA.
A nuclear Iran will cause instability in the Middle East. Additionally, if Iran will gain control in the Gulf the price of oil will rise.
To conclude, the international community has a critical role with the United States carrying the majority of the burden. The European Union (especially Britain, France and Germany) must bring about more decisive steps; this is even more important now than in the past. The international community must be successful in handling Iran.
Summary of remarks by Lt. Gen. (res.) Shaul Mofaz, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Transportation and Road Safety:
A realistic look at the past year demonstrates that Iran is leading on several fronts. The Iranian engine is charging forward towards nuclear arms. The Israeli government must ensure the end of this process.
Over the last year, we (the Center for Strategic Dialogue) had three discussions with the US. These meetings illustrate the importance and urgency in responding to the challenges of the Iranian threat.
What are the changes that have occurred over the past year with regard to the Iranian threat? The most conspicuous one was the publication of the American intelligence report. By means of this report, I would like to prove that Iran is still a threat, and not only to Israel. I would like to prove that only two years remain. I would like to prove that Iran can be defeated.
Nuclear development is not a goal but rather a means to turn Iran into a hegemonic power in the Middle East. Its ambitions pertain not only to Israel. In Ahmadinejad’s declarations, he has managed to convince the world that his strategic interests regard Israel alone. But Israel is not the lion’s share in Iran’s strategic considerations, though its placement as a focal point towards which all of Iran’s aggression is channeled serves the purposes of the Iranian government and blinds the leaders of many nations of the world.
A nuclear Iran will lead to cataclysm. Under the nuclear umbrella, it will force its values and beliefs upon weaker states. The major turning point is the publication of the American report. Everyone can find within its pages something different. You can calm those who are nervous, but you can also find many alarming tidings: the smoking gun is still the enrichment process and production of fissile material. The report declares that Iran has gone a good deal of the way in developing arms and constructing centrifuges.
There is not a single intelligence establishment in the world which claims that Iran is not a ballistic power. Long-range missiles and missiles that can reach all the capital cities of Europe and the east coast of the US are the future fruit of Iran’s development efforts. Anyone who reads the report can see that Iran is laboring diligently over its nuclear technological development, and by the end of 2009 or beginning of 2010, it will have nuclear capabilities; the ability to construct a bomb is a matter of months and not years!
Regarding international action: many states are aware of the danger a nuclear Iran would pose. The understanding that combining forces is the only way to stop Iran has permeated even the business and financial sectors across the globe. In a series of sanctions, the US named a number of banks in Iran as aids to terror organizations, which critically harmed Iran’s economy. Similarly, some nations have adopted sanctions independent of those of the UN.
As a result of all these sanction, the situation in Iran is dreadful. There is terrible poverty, and dissatisfaction with the regime is growing. In the streets, people ask why they must take care of Hezbollah and Hamas while there is such scarcity in our homes. The assumption is that one straw after another will eventually break the back of the Iranian regime. And yet there are states that act towards the benefit Iran and create a unified front that weakens international activity. Thus, actions like those of Russia and China strengthen Iran and turn things in its favor.
The picture is one of an Iran moving ahead quickly while the world marches in place. Diplomatic efforts are not producing results, and there is a need for additional efforts. The next two years are the last for political action. Nuclear devices must transform from an asset to an unbearable burden.
In conclusion, the reality is complex, but the picture is clear. Iran is indeed gaining on us in certain ways, but the finish line is still far off. The ball is still in the court of the enlightened world. Iran can still be stopped, and all options are open. No leader will be able to say in a few years from now that this situation could not be stopped. The writing is on the wall.
Summary of remarks by MK Dr. Yuval Steinitz, Member and Former Chairman, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee:
The NIE Report dealt a severe blow to the fight against Iranian nuclearization; it gave China and Russia an excuse to soften their stance. The report is entirely unfounded, as it contradicts itself; it is the most bizarre report I have ever read.
We know a lot about Iran, but there are things we do not know which are cause for concern. We see the Iranian nuclear infrastructure; but we are still asking questions.
We are led to believe that Iran, after investing huge amounts of money in infrastructure, will not develop nuclear weapons, that the development of this technology continues without a purpose. The Iranian nuclear program is already twenty years old. It is a program worth billions of dollars. What will the Iranians do with all the missiles that were produced over the years? Their designation should be clear. Therefore, people should ask themselves: what are the Iranians going to do with their reactors and centrifuges if not build a bomb? And so, there is no need for all the data in order to understand that the report has severe logical flaws.
I fear that the report is mistaken. It claims that since 2003 Iran has not been developing technology for the production of nuclear weapons. The report makes the false claim that sanctions are effective.
Of course, what happened in 2003 was the invasion of Iraq. If we assume that this halted the nuclear development program, then it appears that military force is what made the difference. The report does not mention this possibility because it would lead to recommending the use of military force in order to put pressure on Iran.
From address by FM Tzipi Livni to the 8th Herzliya Conference (22 Jan 2008):
Understanding the threat creates new camps, and it must be understood that Iran is a threat unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the State of Israel. It’s clear that even if we succeed in resolving this conflict tomorrow morning, Iran’s ideology will not be altered. It’s also clear to Iran’s neighbors and to the Arab and Muslim countries that Iran’s interest does not lie in Israel and that Israel is only an excuse in order to inflame the people at home and the radical elements in their countries.
We can also generate joint interests and actions to face the threat. And in this matter you have to understand one clear thing. The free world is also being observed by the states that feel threatened by Iran; and we live in a neighborhood where either you beat up the neighborhood bully or you join him. Any hesitation by the international community is immediately perceived, in our neighborhood, as weakness. So this is not just for the benefit of the State of Israel; when you understand the threat in this context, you understand that the threat is regional and global. The world cannot allow itself any kind of weakness in facing the Iranian threat. Just as it’s understood that Iran poses a common threat, neither does anyone want to see Hamas succeed. In almost every one of these Arab and Muslim countries is a group of the Moslem Brotherhood threatening the regime from within. So it is also understood that the threat from Hamas today inside the Palestinian Authority is not only against Israel but also comprises a threat at home.
From address by Defense Minister Ehud Barak to the 8th Herzliya Conference (21 Jan 2008):
The Iranian nuclear threat remains critical against the backdrop of stability in Israel and the entire world. Against Iran there is much to be done in the intelligence realm, as well as sanctions, and other diplomatic possibilities, without discarding any one of these options. We will not accept an Iran which possesses a nuclear capable military and we are working in all areas. This matter must not be discussed too much. Words will not stop missiles.
FM Livni addressing the Russian Foreign Ministry Diplomatic Academy in Moscow (17 Jan 2008):
"Iran’s destructive ideology is not connected to Israel, but to deep extremist religious foundations. The combination of this ideology with attempts to obtain nuclear weapons and violation of international treaties, and fear of a domino effect on the region obligates the world to translate its declarations into actions. If the world does not deal with Iran, the situation and the rules of the game are likely to change."
From joint press conference with PM Olmert and US President Bush in Jerusalem (9 Jan 2008):
US PRESIDENT BUSH: We also talked about Iran. Iran is a threat to world peace. There was a recent intelligence report that came out that I think sent the signal to some that said perhaps the United States does not view an Iran with a nuclear weapon as a serious problem. And I want to remind people, Mr. Prime Minister, what I said at the press conference when I discussed that National Intelligence Estimate. I said then that Iran was a threat, Iran is a threat, and Iran will be a threat if the international community does not come together and prevent that nation from the development of the know-how to build a nuclear weapon. A country which once had a secret program can easily restart a secret program. A country which can enrich for civilian purposes can easily transfer that knowledge to a military program. A country which has made statements that it’s made about the security of our friend, Israel, is a country that needs to be taken seriously. And the international community must understand with clarity the threat that Iran provides to world peace. And we will continue to work with European countries, Russia and China, as well as nations in this neighborhood, to make it abundantly clear the threat that Iran poses for world peace.
Let me remind you what the NIE actually said. It said that as far as the intelligence community could tell, at one time the Iranians had a covert military program that was suspended in 2003 because of international pressure. My attitude is that a non-transparent country, a country which has yet to disclose what it was up to, can easily restart a program. The fact that they suspended the program is heartening in that the international community’s response had worked. The fact that they had one is discouraging because they could restart it.
Secondly, there are three aspects to a weapons program. One is the capacity to enrich so that you can have the materials necessary to make a bomb. They’re claiming they’re enriching for civilian purposes. I believe that knowledge gained for civilian purposes could be transferred for military purposes. Therefore, our efforts are to stop them from enriching.
Secondly, the knowledge of how to convert any materials into a bomb. We don’t know whether they have that knowledge or not. However, for the sake of peace, we ought to assume they do, and therefore, rally the world to convince other that they’re a threat. Third, they’ve got missiles in which they can use to deliver the bomb. So no matter how you might have interpreted the NIE, I interpreted it to mean you better take the Iranians’
Secondly, I have always told the American people that I believe it’s incumbent upon the American President to solve problems diplomatically. And that’s exactly what we’re in the process of doing. I believe that pressure – economic pressure, financial sanctions – will cause the people inside of Iran to have to make a considered judgment about whether or not it makes sense for them to continue to enrich or face world isolation. The country is paying an economic price for its intransigence and its unwillingness to tell the truth.
The Iranian people – we have no qualm with Iranian people. I’m sure Israel doesn’t either. It’s people with a proud history and a great tradition. But they are being misled by their government. The actions of their government are causing there to be isolation and economic stagnation. People went into office saying, we promise you this and we promise you this economic benefit, but they’re simply not being delivered. And so we’ll continue to keep the pressure on the Iranians, and I believe we can solve this problem diplomatically.
PRIME MINISTER OLMERT: We had a very thorough discussion, which, of course, also covered the Iranian subject, as President Bush said. We discussed all aspects of this issue, and of course, it goes without saying that we shared with one another what we know and what the Americans know when it comes to this topic. And without my sharing with you right now all the details, of course, despite the natural curiosity, which I appreciate, I believe that what has just been said now by the President of the United States is particularly important. The President of the largest power in the world, the most important power in the world, is standing right here, and he has said in no uncertain terms that Iran was a threat and remains a threat.
The fact that it has certain technological capacities is a fact. And through this, it is capable of realizing that potential and creating nuclear weapons. And considering the nature of the government there and the type of threats that they are voicing, one cannot possibly disregard that power, and we must do everything possible to thwart them.
Of course, the United States will decide for itself just what steps to take. I can only say one thing, namely, my impression based on this conversation, as well as previous talks that we had – and we talk quite frequently, apart from the face-to-face meetings – my impression is that we have here a leader who is exceptionally determined, exceptionally loyal to the principles in which he believes. He has proven this throughout his term in office in his preparedness to take exceptional measures in order to defend the principles in which he believes, and in his deep commitment to the security of the state of Israel.
Inasmuch as I could sum up all of these impressions this evening, I would say that I certainly am encouraged and reinforced, having heard the position of the United States under the leadership of George Bush, particularly on this subject.
Excerpt from Jerusalem Post interview by Herb Keinon and David Horovitz with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (4 Jan 2008):
Q: Are the Iranians further ahead [in their nuclear program] than the Iraqis were 26 years ago? And if Russia is selling them ever more sophisticated air defenses, does that limit us and create a situation where it is harder to postpone a response?
PM Olmert: The Iranian threat is… a combination of several factors. First of all, the nature of the Iranian regime – non-democratic, extremist, built on hatred and detached from all the basic values of Western culture. It sustains the anti-Israeli Islamic extremist movements. It nurtures them, strengthens them, encourages them. Iran is also, to my sorrow, advanced and developed in the technological areas, so it has the capabilities to develop weapons that can constitute a real danger. And it is also a very rich country, so it has the means to do all this. It has the world’s second largest oil reserves and giant reserves of gas, producing immense income. That’s where the threat stems from. The Iranians also state clearly and crudely that Israel needs to be wiped off the map. Once they said that we should be sent to Germany. Now they say we should be sent to Alaska. That’s a very problematic approach.
I would suggest that we put aside the Russian aspect for the moment. I don’t think Russia is our enemy. President Putin is a very impressive man… He stresses repeatedly [to me] that he won’t allow Israel’s security to be harmed… He naturally wants to look after the global interests of his country. But he told me he will never be one-sided on issues where Israel is affected. Quite the reverse…
Q: Last year when we spoke at length with you here, you expressed confidence that one way or another President Bush would handle the Iranian threat. When we spoke with you in Washington a few weeks ago, at the time of the Annapolis summit [and you had just met with Bush], you gave us a very vague response about having had very interesting discussions with the president on the subject. Since then the American National Intelligence Estimate has come out, apparently preventing President Bush [in his final year] from taking military action against Iran…
PM Olmert: The NIE summarizes the stance of the American intelligence agencies. The bottom line, it says, is that there is no smoking gun by which we can prove that Iran is currently developing weapons systems for mass destruction. It does talk of the fact that Iran is engaged in uranium enrichment. And President Bush says that his interpretation is that there is no potential use for the uranium they are enriching other than for an atomic bomb. The bottom line is that President Bush hasn’t changed his opinion regarding the danger posed by Iran. And I haven’t changed my impression regarding President Bush’s commitment to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons. Now, what we are doing and not doing, and what he and I talk about when we stroll on the White House lawns, well, that would greatly interest you, but I can’t tell you.
Q: But the NIE limits his room for action, no? And where does that leave us?
PM Olmert: Israel always acted and prepared for the possibility that it would need to defend its existence on its own. That’s always been the case and that is the case today, wherever a threat to our existence can arise. Those who need to know do know that we have the tools to defend ourselves.
Let me remind you that President Bush said a few days ago, after he knew what the thinking was in the American intelligence community, that an attack on Israel is like an attack on America. That’s quite some statement. I don’t recall him saying that about other countries. So America is a faithful ally. And Israel is a strong state and it has the capacity and the will to prevent a circumstance in which it will stand in existential danger. Beyond that I don’t think anything else needs to be said…