As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Israel Lobby And Iran

I mentioned the Swift Boating of Chas Freeman and its implications on US/Israel policy. Andrew Sullivan thinks he's found a nut and has divined the real reason there was such vicious pushback on Freeman, who was clearly qualified for the job. There is a pretty big under-the-radar battle right now between Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, who recommended Freeman for the job of National Intelligence Council head, and the hard right in Israel, and this mainly concerns intelligence on Iran. Blair testified in an open session on Tuesday that Iran has not weaponized uranium or restarted its nuclear capacity. And frankly, the Israelis don't like what they hear.

Iran has not produced the highly enriched uranium necessary for a nuclear weapon and has not decided to do so, U.S. intelligence officials told Congress yesterday, an assessment that contrasts with a stark Israeli warning days earlier that Iran has crossed the "technological threshold" in its pursuit of the bomb.

Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair said that Iran has not decided to pursue the production of weapons-grade uranium and the parallel ability to load it onto a ballistic missile [...]

Israeli officials have a different view of Iran's goals.

"Reaching a military-grade nuclear capability is a question of synchronizing its strategy with the production of a nuclear bomb," Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, Israel's chief of military intelligence, told cabinet ministers, according to a senior Israeli official briefing reporters in Jerusalem. "Iran continues to stockpile hundreds of kilograms of low-level enriched uranium and hopes to use the dialogue with the West to buy the time it requires in order to move towards an ability to manufacture a nuclear bomb."

Blair said Israel was working from the same facts but had drawn a different interpretation of their meaning.

"The Israelis are far more concerned about it, and they take more of a worst-case approach to these things from their point of view," he said.

And so, extrapolating from that, Sullivan makes a succinct but compelling argument that the Israel lobby is trying to show their power to Blair, and by extension influence the internal debate on Iran.

The blackballing of Freeman is also about the intimidation of Blair. My concern remains that many of the same people that led us into the groupthink that gave us the worst intelligence blunder in American history are now dictating who gets to review intelligence for the next historic analysis: on Iran. I realized my mistake and have tried to adjust to allow for it. Others have dug in more deeply.

There's no question that the Israel lobby used the blackballing of Freeman to aggrandize their power in Washington and with the Obama Administration. In Walter Pincus' article, an AIPAC spokesman was outed as providing material about Freeman on background to reporters (good for Pincus). But character assassination is one thing. If there really is an attempt to hijack the interpretation of key data about the scope of the Iranian threat, it needs to be pummeled into sand.

The Administration's public statements on Iran have been a mix of carrots and sticks - and they've candidly spoken on both sides of the nuclear issue. Yet at the same time they may be seeking supply routes for Afghanistan through the country, inviting the country to international conferences, etc. It sounds to me like there's an internal struggle, and the Israel lobby is trying to gain a foothold. Needless to say, the result of either the US or Israel attempting to "take out" Iranian nuclear facilities would be catastrophic for the region and the world. It's simply incredible that we have to even fight this battle again, but Washington doesn't learn easily.

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