Three Israeli ex-generals, until recently senior military intelligence heavyweights, were moved to take the unprecedented step of drawing up a counter-estimate to challenge the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), point by point.
They are Maj.-Gen. (res.) Aharon Ze'evi Farkash, former Head of IDF Military Intelligence – AMAN; and two former heads of Research and Assessment in AMAN: Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror and Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly publishes the high points of their provocative assessments, whose common conclusions are:
- Iran has prepared enough uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) for more than ten atom bombs.
- The 2003 halt in Iran’s covert nuclear weapons program cited by the NIE was temporary, prompted by being caught in the act by the West.
- Conversion and enrichment were resumed in 2005 when Tehran lost its fear of a US attack.
- Several European agencies shared Israel’s grave doubts that Iran had “mothballed its nuclear weapons program” after 2003.
- Iran never halted ballistic missile development which is part and parcel of its nuclear program.
“We judge with high confidence that in Fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program,” said the US. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of November 2007.
This conclusion was refuted by Israel intelligence.
When in 1995 AMAN first detected signs that Iran was going nuclear, its heads thought its most important action must be to “to brief our counterparts in Washington and convince them that this was a danger soon to be faced by the entire Free World.”
It was an uphill project that took two years.
The NIE estimate was challenged not only by Israel but also by British intelligence, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The director of US National Intelligence, Adm. Mike McConnell, told the Senate Intelligence Committee in February 2008: “The only thing they've halted was nuclear weapons design, which is probably the least significant part of the program.”
As for the International Atomic Energy Agency, one official commented:
“We don't buy the American analysis 100 percent. We are not that generous with Iran.”
Aharon Ze'evi Farkash:
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Aharon Ze'evi Farkash, head of Israeli Military Intelligence from 2001 to 2006, offers insights from firsthand experience on how the Iranian nuclear program was perceived by the West as it evolved.
In August 2002, Tehran realized the US, the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom), and Israel had obtained hard intelligence on its clandestine nuclear weapons program.
In March 2003, the Iraq War and downfall of Saddam Hussein intervened and dominated the regional environment.
In July 2003, the Iranians agreed to open talks with the EU-3, which sought to halt the program by diplomatic engagement. Later that year, Qaddafi gave up Libya's nuclear military plans.
Worried by these events, Tehran agreed to a freeze in 2003 – barring its surface missile program.
But in fact, from early 2003, the Iranians covertly focused on a centrifuge program at Natanz (which has since reaching a capacity of 3,000 centrifuges), and it stands to reason that other parts of their program were secretly reactivated as well.
From early 2004, Israeli intelligence picked up Iranian shopping expeditions for fast high voltage switches for a nuclear weapons system. Uranium mining in southeast Iran was placed under the Iranian Ministry of Defense’s supervision.
When Iran resumed its enrichment program in 2005, the Lavizan covert weaponization site which the IAEA had asked to inspect had been dismantled.
The Iranian opposition charged a new command and control center codenamed Lavizan-2 had taken its place. They also identified Khojir, where the production of nuclear warheads was alleged to be taking place.
The NIE relieved Iran of worry
The former AMAN chief points to contradictions he found in the US intelligence estimate.
Tehran is cited as freezing its covert nuclear weapons program in 2003 – yet Paragraph C notes that in 2007, Iran made significant progress in installing centrifuges at Natanz.
Based on this finding, Israeli military intelligence estimates that late 2009 is the earliest possible date for Iran to be technically capable of producing enough weapons-grade enriched uranium for a weapon.
Paragraph D says the range of technical capabilities Iran is developing could be applied to producing nuclear weapons if it so decides. Therefore, even its civilian enrichment projects could produce enough fissile materials for a bomb by the end of 2009 or 2010.
Paragraph F contends that Iran probably would use covert facilities rather than its declared nuclear sites for the production of highly enriched uranium for a weapon.
Finally, Paragraph H states: We assess that Iran has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so.
Therefore, it would be a mistake to conclude that Iranian nuclear weapons’ ambitions have been halted on the basis of reading the first sentence of the NIE alone.
This former AMAN research director questions the NIE’s distinction between the military and civilian sections of Iran’s nuclear program.
It’s all one program, he maintains. For at least 15 years, the military sections went forward under civilian cover. Tehran was only persuaded to put its covert weapons program on hold from 2003 to 2005 by America’s pre-emptive policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. But they were resumed in 2005 when Iran saw America bogged down in Iraq.
Since then, enough uranium hexaflouride gas (UF6) for more than ten atomic bombs has been prepared through the conversion process.
Nothing but military intervention can interrupt Iran’s progress towards acquiring an ample supply of enriched uranium for a bomb. The NIE relieved Iran’s leaders of that worry.