Meir Dagan, when he retired as Mossad chief last week, estimated that difficulties had held back Iran's race for a nuclear bomb until early 2014 or 2015. He did not mention the Stuxnet virus invading its systems or the untimely deaths of its nuclear scientists. He did refer to arguments in Iran's ruling elite which had delayed the attainment of its goal, indicating that without those disputes Tehran would have acquired a nuclear capability by now – or very soon.
But most strikingly, Dagan omitted mention of the short cuts available to Iran, as noted here by debkafile's military, intelligence and Iranian sources:
1. Not all Iran's concealed nuclear facilities have been discovered by Western intelligence – not even Mossad. Given Iran's record of concealment, it would be foolish, for instance, to ignore the possibility of a secret plant enriching uranium at full speed somewhere underground out of range of the UN nuclear watchdog's cameras recording every centrifuge spinning at Natanz. They may still be undetected by spy satellites and unbeknownst even to the defectors and double agents willing to collaborate with the West.
A single secret facility of this kind would invalidate the current Western estimate of Iran's stock of low-grade enriched uranium as standing at 3,000 kilos. The real amount could be 20 times or even 100 times as much, enough for three or four bombs.
2. The same applies to the "malfunctions" undoubtedly holding up the program. No competent agency would risk guaranteeing that every last Iranian facility has been crippled or exposed to cyber invasion. The publicity surrounding Stuxnet and the deaths or defections of Iranian nuclear scientists has conveyed the impression of a nation on the point of collapse, whose every nook and cranny is wide open to the long arm of Western and Israeli spy agencies.
But who knows what really goes on in the top-secret laboratories of Shahid Beheshti University in northern Tehran, which employed the two nuclear scientists targeted for attack last month? It is there that much of the research is conducted from Iran's nuclear and missile programs. But there is no certainty that a parallel research institution is not operating in some other dark place.
3. Iran has been known in the past to have established or transferred sensitive nuclear facilities outside the country to remove them from the sight of alien intelligence agencies and safeguard them against sabotage, like the audacious attack of Oct. 12, 2010 against a hidden Shehab-3 missile store at the Revolutionary Guards Imam Ali base in northwest Iran. The consequences of this attack were as destructive as the Stuxnet invasion.
It will be recalled that only when the Israeli Air Force struck the North Korean-built plutonium reactor at A-Zur in northern Syria in Sept. 2007 was this vital external link in Iran's nuclear program revealed.
Tehran, Pyongyang and Damascus resumed their nuclear collaboration in early 2009, debkafile's sources disclose. Three or four secret military research centers are going up in Syria at this moment, which is why Damascus denies International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors access to suspect nuclear sites.
Western intelligence, including the Mossad, knows very little about Iran's nuclear partnership with North Korea. An Iranian military nuclear mission has been discovered based permanently in Pyongyang. It was substantially expanded in recent weeks raising the suspicion in the US and Israel that a joint nuclear test is planned to take place at the North Korean testing site in the course of this year.
If North Korea performed this service for Iran, Dagan's 2015 estimate would no longer apply.
4. All the deadlines predicted for Iran's nuclear programs are therefore problematic.
Early on in the last decade, in 2000, Western and Israeli intelligence anticipated Iran would have a nuclear bomb or warhead by 2007. That year, the timeline was pushed back to 2009 and then again to 2011. The gap has widened now to 2015. However, there is no guarantee from any quarter that the latest estimate is any more credible than the old ones and that Tehran is not capable of throwing it awry by one stealthy ruse or another – this time not for another delay but by jumping the gun.