larry derfner 88.
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The news on Monday - that US intelligence agencies have reversed their opinion and now believe that Iran stopped trying to develop nuclear weapons four years ago - did nothing less than change the world.
The reverberations from the National Intelligence Estimate will go on for a long time. It's too early to even try to anticipate the full effect of this radical shift in perception, this erasure of a seemingly indelible vision of the future and the replacement of it with a very different vision.
But I think a number of conclusions can be drawn already:
This is a good thing. A very, very, very good thing. An Iran that is not in the process of going nuclear is quite an improvement over an Iran that is. The danger that Iran might be crazy enough to launch nuclear weapons against Israel or anyone else; the danger of a nuclear war resulting from fear and uncertainty about Iran's nukes; the danger of a Middle East nuclear arms race - all these awful scenarios ought to recede considerably in people's minds.
The threat of a nuclear Iran in the future hasn't been removed; the country was trying to develop nuclear weapons before and could do so again. But, according to the world's latest, best intelligence estimate, a nuclear Iran isn't in the works and hasn't been for four years.
The danger of an American or Israeli "preemptive" attack on Iran, which was dwindling anyway as Bush's presidency ran down, has now been removed altogether. The only way that danger can reappear is if US intelligence agencies decide later on that Iran is once again trying to manufacture the Bomb. I, for one, am happy that as things stand, Israel is not going to be at war with Iran and its biological and chemical weapons.
A fear that paralyzed so many people's minds, that locked them into the most aggressive possible attitude toward Iran, should start to lift. A lot more people are going to allow the possibility that Iran is not a nation planning mass martyrdom, not a nation that lives solely for the day it can annihilate Israel even at the certain, immediate price of its own existence. The authors of the National Intelligence Estimate wrote: "Our assessment that Iran halted the [nuclear] program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran's decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs." Despite their violent, fanatical ideology, Iran's leaders do not make strategic policy according to some obscure doctrine of the Hidden Imam, or the Twelfth Imam, or any other imam.
This is a tremendous blow to Hizbullah, Hamas and every other Islamic terrorist organization that was counting on Iran's imminent nuclear weapons to make them and their cause unstoppable. That Iran's will can be bent by America and the West is terrible news for these people. Their patron, their standard bearer, has been taken down several pegs.
Now that the axis connecting Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas suddenly appears less threatening, Israel, after it absorbs the shock of the new, should become more willing to take risks for peace. I have very low expectations for the peace process, even now, with the Palestinians, but there's potential for success with the Syrians, and it seems Israeli leaders, many of whom have been pushing for talks with Syria for awhile, may become more ready to explore that potential.
By rights, US intelligence, which lost a huge amount of credibility over the Iraq war, should have regained it with this report. It takes a great deal of courage and integrity for the American intelligence community to change its position so sharply on an issue as monumental as this, and to do so knowing that the report contradicts Bush administration policy. If you believed American intelligence officials up until Monday, as I did, when they said Iran was building nuclear weapons, then intellectual honesty requires that you believe them now, as I do, when they say Iran suspended the project in 2003.
Someone else who just gained enormous credibility is Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who was attacked here and in America when he said there was no proof Iran was enriching uranium for nuclear weapons and not just electricity. It turns out even Vladimir Putin, who doesn't inspire much trust, was being straightforward when he made the same point. So, it seems, was a certain Holocaust denier in Iran who whips up crowds by promising to wipe Israel off the map. It's hard to know who to disbelieve anymore.
The scare campaign on Iran conducted by Israel and the American Jewish establishment, replete as it is with Holocaust and Hitler imagery, is going to end right away. The push for tougher sanctions will likely continue (although, as I said, the push for war won't). Tougher sanctions may still even be a good idea; I don't know. But this "It's 1938 and Iran is Germany" horror show is over, thank God. The case for sanctions is going to have to be based on knowledge and logic, not fear-mongering.
THE NATIONAL Intelligence Estimate isn't saying and I'm not saying that Iran is all of a sudden a harmless country. It's still in the hands of an extremely malign regime, it has lots of long-range missiles and WMD already, and nobody knows if the apparent suspension of its nuclear weapons program is temporary or permanent. Iran remains a dangerous enemy of Israel, America and the non-Islamist world, and it has to be opposed.
But the revelation of the NIE is that Iran can be opposed successfully by diplomatic means. It can be coerced. It's not necessary to risk World War III to bring Iran into line.
This, as I suggested, is good news. In Israel, however, the consensus seems to be the opposite. Israelis are getting the message from their leaders that they shouldn't trust this American report, that absolutely nothing has changed - Iran is still a threat to Israel's survival, time is running out, it's coming down to do or die. The public is urged to remain scared out of its wits.
I think Israelis should try something different, something they haven't tried in many years: To open their minds. To realize that they don't know everything there is to know. To accept that the world can change, and not only for the worse. To unclench. To look around, to breathe the air. It tastes fresh.