Analysis: Why does US and Israeli intel differ?

The Americans don't want to be caught crying wolf again, and the Israelis don't want another Libya.

iran missile test, the b (photo credit: AP)
iran missile test, the b
(photo credit: AP)
All it took was eight pages, and the entire international front against Iran has undergone a revolution. The US intelligence report released Monday with the claim that Iran froze its nuclear military track four years ago has Israel concerned that the United States is weakening its strong stance against Iran that had President George W. Bush warning that World War III would break out if the ayatollahs got their hands on a bomb. What the report makes even clearer are the major differences between the various intelligence agencies in Israel and the United States. The Mossad claims that the Iranians will be able to develop a nuclear bomb by the end of 2009; Military Intelligence warns that Teheran will cross the technological threshold within six months; and now the Americans are putting the timeline toward the middle of the next decade, or 2013 at the earliest. Defense officials in Tel Aviv admitted Tuesday that the report would probably embolden Iran, even though the differences between Israel and the US were not so great as a superficial reading of the report might indicate. The core of the disagreement is over the question of whether Iran abandoned its military nuclear program. While the American report claims they froze the program in 2003, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Tuesday it was highly probable that it was restarted shortly thereafter. Putting this disagreement aside, however, both countries are on the same page regarding the possibility that Iran's civilian nuclear program could be used to manufacture bombs when it is completed. Here, the date is the only difference. But the basic question remains: What is the true timeline? Here, as with anything from the world of intelligence, there is no clear answer. While there is high-level cooperation between the US and Israel on Iran, each intelligence agency has its own sources and its own modus operandi. Both countries are also influenced by different political agendas. The Americans, for example, are still traumatized by the blatant intelligence failure vis-à-vis Iraq's alleged WMD and, therefore, does not want to be caught crying wolf again. Israel, on the other hand, is traumatized by its failure to learn of Libya's nuclear program before it was abandoned in a deal Col. Muammar Gaddafi struck with the US and UK. As a result of these traumas, both countries interpret the situation a little differently. Israel takes the more stringent track. As one defense official put it on Tuesday, "It is better to be safe than sorry." However, in America, where there is an already-growing anti-war sentiment, the report is meant to send a message that the military option is, at least for now, off the table. One official involved in high-level discussions about Iran raised a hypothesis on Tuesday that the release of the report on Monday was actually timed with an announcement made on Sunday that America had succeeded in getting the Chinese to agree to a new round of sanctions. By taking the military option off the table, the official suggested, the US might succeed in getting China and Russia on board for sanctions.