Notwithstanding his White House talks with US president George W. Bush Wednesday, June 4, prime minister Ehud Olmert was more or less sidelined in US-Israeli exchanges on the handling of the Iranian nuclear issue.
Serving a prime minister at the end of his political life over suspected corruption, Olmert’s aides played up his attempt to persuade the president that enough time had been wasted on palaver, sanctions and diplomacy and the moment had come for action against Iran’s nuclear installations. They said the Israeli leader brought with him updated intelligence and satellite images to show Bush.
However, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Washington and Jerusalem sources disclose that President Bush, reluctant to be party to Olmert’s last flourish, sent the US Director of National Intelligence, Adm. Mike McConnell, on a quiet mission to Israel for an intelligence update on Iran from the horse’s mouth.
He landed in Israel Monday, June 2, when Olmert was airborne on his way to Washington and is due back Friday June 6, the day the Israeli prime minister emplanes for home.
Responsible for delivering the president’s daily intelligence briefings, McConnell signed the National Intelligence Estimate released last December which, by maintaining Iran had given up its military nuclear activities in 2003, ruled out a military operation to stop them. In Israel, he conferred with military and intelligence officials in charge of the Iranian desk, including heads of the “Iran Command,” which Israel’s Defense Forces (IDF) established to draw up plans for a possible Israel attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.
Will US intelligence revise its estimate?
Wednesday, June 4, the visiting American intelligence chief got together with Mossad director (Res.) Brig. Meir Dagan to wrap up their intelligence exchanges.
Thursday, McConnell was received by defense minister Ehud Barak at his Tel Aviv office for a final summation.
The updated presentation on the state of Iran’s nuclear program will therefore be delivered to the president by his own intelligence chief Mike McConnell, along with the results of his mission in Israel.
The big question exercising both Washington and Jerusalem is whether last December’s NIE will now be revised. Is Washington willing to accept that Tehran not only raced ahead with its nuclear weapons program after 2003, but has come dangerously close to its goal of a nuclear bomb and may indeed have completed important sections of its weaponization program? Or will McConnell stick to his NIE guns as most observers believe?
After his briefing over the weekend, President Bush will face one of the biggest decisions of his presidency: whether or not to seize his last chance of an American attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities before the end of summer and the expiry of his term in the White House.
The daunting pros and cons surrounding this decision are complicated by an unusual factor: dramatic developments in the presidential campaign and their impact on the prospects of the president’s fellow-Republican, Senator John McCain.
As the US intelligence and Israel Mossad chief conversed in Tel Aviv, the Democratic nominee Barack Obama went on the offensive against the Bush administration, charging that the war in Iraq had strengthened Iran and its nuclear ambitions.
Tough-talking Obama puts Bush on the spot
He won a standing ovation when he told the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual conference: “I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, everything!”
Although he would first try “aggressive, principled diplomacy” with Tehran, the Democratic candidate promised to leave the military option open.
Obama blasted the Bush administration on two further points:
He absolutely refuted the proposition that the Israel-Palestinian dispute was at the root of all Middle East troubles. He thus lowered the heat trained on Israel for decades to make concessions for a quick solution. He also declared that Jerusalem will remain forever the capital of Israel “and it must remain undivided.” He thus became the first prominent American politician to back away from the longstanding demand to carve Jerusalem up between Israelis and Palestinians and adopted a position sure to put every Muslim nose in the Middle East out of joint.
Obama’s strong words on Iran have posed President Bush with a new quandary: He must decide whether to make good on his pledge that American would never let Iran obtain a nuclear weapon, or default and leave it to his successor who may be a Democrat.
By turning away from a military attack to cut down the advancing Iranian nuclear arms program, Bush could impair the prospects of his own party’s candidate, John McCain, against his tough-talking Democratic rival.