iran nuclear 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Iran's covert nuclear weapons program is continuing, and the American intelligence community's misassessment of it has opened the door for Iran to achieve its nuclear ambitions, the former head of IDF Military Intelligence, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Aharon Ze'evi-Farkash, warned bitterly on Tuesday.
Speaking at a Hebrew University seminar, before an audience that included members of the Supreme Court, leading politicians, foreign ambassadors, senior members of the Israeli intelligence community and numerous other notables, Ze'evi-Farkash unleashed the angriest and most detailed assault by an Israeli expert to date on the American National Intelligence Estimate of Iran's purportedly "halted" nuclear weapons program.
Noting that he had headed Military Intelligence at the time of the ostensible Iranian "halt" in 2003, Ze'evi-Farkash said he had gone back to his papers for reference to the starkly differing Israeli and American intelligence estimates. He then proceeded to talk the audience through Israel's assessment of the Iranian program, even offering rare details of how some information had been obtained by Israel and how Israel then sought to persuade the international community of its importance.
He said Iran became aware in August 2002 that the US, UK, Germany, France and Israel "had strong information that under its broad civilian cover Iran was conducting a clandestine nuclear program." This program, he said, covered all aspects of nuclear weapons development and delivery, and was conducted under the auspices of the Iranian Defense Ministry and Atomic Energy Agency. Missile development, uranium enrichment, plutonium production and other activities were pursued at several sites, including R&D centers in Teheran itself. The work was conducted under cover names, including a Program for the Cultivation of the Desert.
Recognizing that the international community had discovered the covert program, Ze'evi-Farkash said, the Iranians set about hiding its traces, but then resumed their activities. For instance, he said, weapons system development at the Lavizan site, identified by Iranian opposition groups, was halted and moved elsewhere, and all traces of activity were removed.
Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency sought permission to visit the site in 2002, and were finally granted that permission in 2003.
"We took satellite pictures [of Lavizan] in 2002 and in March 2003," Ze'evi-Farkash said. "In March 2003 Lavizan disappeared. We saw a garden and a soccer field. They dug down more than two meters" to remove traces of the activity there.
The former Military Intelligence chief then detailed the extent of Iranian missile development, noting that the Shihab-3, with a range of 1,500 kilometers and the capacity to carry a 700-kilogram warhead, was already operational. "We saw [such] missiles, in Iranian maneuvers, pointed at Tel Aviv and at Riyadh," he said.
Ze'evi-Farkash cited longer-range missiles, with larger potential warheads, also in development, gradually bringing Europe into range and even, by 2010, the east coast of the United States.
Listing specific criticisms of the NIE report, he said flatly that, in contrast to its headline-making opening assertion, "the Iranian clandestine military program is continuing." The NIE's "distinction between military and civilian programs is artificial," he added, since enrichment of uranium - which all agree Iran is doing - "is critical to both."
He stressed that the surface-to-surface missile program is continuing, adding, "No other country would invest so many billions of dollars in surface-to-surface missile programs without nuclear military intentions."
Ze'evi-Farkash said that when Israel prepared its assessment of the acute danger posed by this Iranian program in 2003 to 2004, he was dispatched, along with the head of the Mossad, "to explain our knowledge" in Europe. He met with the political leaders of Italy, the UK, France, Germany and the Czech Republic, among others, he said, and came back to the prime minister with two messages.
First, European leaders asked him why Israel thought they needed to be worried by an Iranian nuclear weapons threat since they had lived under such a threat in the Cold War. And second, they told him that, if Iran did get the bomb, they were confident Israel and the United States "will solve the problem. This was the message, and I believe this is still the message."
Outlining the dire immediate consequences of the NIE's publication, he noted that its sanguine assessment had not been contradicted around the world, that Russia had announced it would complete work on the Iranian Bushehr reactor, that China had signed an economic agreement with Iran relating to energy that had been on hold for six months, that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had received a personal invitation to Mecca from Saudi King Abdullah, that Egypt last week sent its deputy foreign minister to Iran on the first official visit since 1979, and that Ahmadinejad might himself be invited to Egypt.
His conclusion, he said, was that the NIE had removed any military option for the Bush administration in thwarting Iran, weakened international support for tougher sanctions, and reduced the likelihood of Turkey and moderate Sunni nations building a coalition against Teheran.
In short, "ironically," he said, the NIE "opens the way for Iran to achieve its military nuclear ambitions."
Ze'evi-Farkash was speaking at the Shasha Center for Strategic Studies' seminar on "The Interface between Law, Intelligence and Terror."
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post after his address, Ze'evi-Farkash fumed that the NIE's report was "political" - designed to deprive President George W. Bush of the justification for military intervention.
"America can't act," he said, "and it's much harder for Israel to act as long as the US is in Iraq" - since Israeli action would be seen as having tacit American support. And he said the blow to the sanctions effort was devastating, precisely when it seemed that sanctions were going to have a real impact.â€¢
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