Outgoing Mossad Director Meir Dagan has revised his earlier prognosis that Iran would not have nuclear weapons before 2015 because of technical obstacles. In his last briefing to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and the Security Committee, Monday, Jan. 17, Dagan said, "The Iranian nuclear challenge will remain significant… the timing will not change the fact that Iran is working towards nuclear military capabilities and in certain scenarios can shorten the timeline."
In his original forecast, delivered at the changing of the guards in the Mossad on Jan. 6, the outgoing director did not spell out the technical obstacles, but he clearly meant the Stuxnet malworm and attacks on its nuclear scientists. He did refer to the infighting within the Iranian leadership, without which he was convinced Iran would have been nuclear-armed by now, had it so decided.
He spoke then the day after Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon stated: "Iran does not currently have the ability to make a nuclear bomb on its own." Neither was prepared to say how that ability had come to be neutralized. Yaalon did say that if Western pressure on Iran – and not just sanctions – was ratcheted up, the Iranian regime would be left with two options: to stop developing a nuclear a bomb or stop existing.
He said he didn't know when this would happen, in 2011 or 2012, but he spoke "in terms of three years."
Both these statements were seized on as fodder for the opponents of military force against Iran both inside and outside Israel. One columnist and military pundit after another appeared to breathe a sigh of relief as though the world had won a respite of four to five years before it needed to start worrying about an Iranian nuclear bomb.
Owing to the high prestige enjoyed the Mossad, Dagan's prognosis was taken almost as gospel with the effect of pulling the rug from under the feet of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak and their drive to alert the world to the Iranian nuclear threat before it is too late. According to debkafile's sources, Netanyahu took Dagan sternly to task before embarking on damage control.
Saturday, Jan. 15, Ilan Mizrahi, a former director of Israel's National Security Council, was reported in Washington to have warned US officials that Iran's nuclear program was far more advanced than generally estimated and the 2015 timeline was seriously off-target. He was the first Israeli intelligence figure to publicly contradict Dagan's assessment.
Sunday, the New York Times, ran a story on Stuxnet, covering ground extensively reported by debkafile, and noting that the US and Israel had together developed the virus which has attacked Iran's nuclear facilities and that it had been tested at Israel's nuclear center in Dimona.
This story appeared to come from an American source for the purpose of backing up Dagan's original estimate of four years before Iran can have a nuclear weapon. The Washington line appears to be that even if Dagan's timeline was not quite accurate, Stuxnet had put paid to Iran's nuclear ambitions.
On January 9, debkafile ran an exclusive analysis under the caption: Iran's short cuts to an N-bomb before 2015 (Click here for article), demonstrating thatthe Mossad ex-chief's estimated timeline may well be superseded if Tehran takes advantage of available shorts cuts, such as its close ties with North Korea, which may either give Iran nuclear weapons or carry out a nuclear test on its behalf.
Furthermore, no Western intelligence agency, even Mossad, knows absolutely for sure everything going on behind the high walls concealing Iran's military nuclear program.
At his final appearance before the Knesset committee Monday, Dagan made exactly those points, emphasizing the options Iran possessed for shortening its timeline toward a weapon.
He stressed too: "It is important for us to learn the lesson of North Korea, which did not get the proper attention from the international community."