Uzi Mahnaimi in last Sunday’s Sunday Times breaks a major story regarding Israel’s estimations of Iran’s Nuclear weapons capabilities. In his reporting Mahnaimi interviews retired Israeli Brigadier General Uzi Eilam. BG Eilam, identified as “the former head of Israel’s nuclear weapons” and “former director general of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission” indicated that it “would probably take Iran seven years to make nuclear weapons.” While this brings BG Eilam’s assessment in line with the 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate regarding Iran’s nuclear weapon ambitions, it also puts his estimate at odds with that of both the current head of Israeli Military Intelligence, as well as the Israeli Prime Minister and his governing coalition. Mahnaimi indicates that the head of Israeli Military Intelligence, Major General Amos Yadlin has “recently told the defence committee in the Knesset that Iran will probably be able to build a singular nuclear device this year.” Mahnaimi also reports that “Israelis forces have been training to attack Iranian nuclear installations and some analysts believe that could be launched this year if international sanctions fail to deter Tehran from pursuing its programme.” Eilam is quoted as saying that “The intelligence community are spreading frightening voices about Iran” and that the “’defence establishment is sending out false alarms in order to grab a bigger budget’ while some politicians have used Iran to divert attention away from problems at home.” He also told Mahnami that “those who say that Iran will obtain a bomb within a year’s time, on what basis did they say so? Where is the evidence?” Mahnaimi concludes his reporting with a final quote from BG Eilam about a preemptive Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities: “such an attack [against Iran] would be counter-productive. One strike is not practical. In order to delay the Iranian programme for three to four years, one needs an armada of aircraft, which only a super-power can provide. Only America can do it.”
There are really four very interesting things that are exposed in Mahnaimi’s interview with retired Israeli Brigadier General Eilam. The first is that the much maligned conclusions in the 2007 US NIE are more accurate than most people have believed. The second is that there seems to be enough dissension between the staffs producing the Israeli estimates on Iran’s nuclear weapon ambitions and capabilities that the former head of one branch decided to publicly take on the others through a media interview. This is reminiscent, though not a perfect parallel, with ADM Fallon’s exit from US Central Command. Fallon gave an interview that many perceived as being "push back" against what was, at the time, a very bellicose Bush Administration policy towards Iran and many have speculated he did so, then apologized and resigned, in order to retard that policy. The third item of interest is the partial lifting of the veil of the Israeli interagency process. Specifically a glimpse into worst case scenarios being presented and leaked in order to justify bigger budgets or greater bureaucratic control. The final item that Mahnaimi exposes is that Israeli politicians are hyping the Iranian threat to divert attention from domestic issues. In these second and third examples we see clear parallels to the warped process that has been on full display over the last several weeks in the US. Ever since Mr. Abdulmuttalab tried to blow up a Northwest Flight on Christmas Day we have observed ramping up of hyperbole, threat assessment, and responses from various agencies, as well as been treated to an excellent display of both the interagency infighting among our intelligence and security agencies and the attempts to further politicize the intelligence process, security operations, and the threats facing the US.
Adam L. Silverman PhD
Adam L. Silverman, PhD was the Field Social Scientist and Team Leader for Human Terrain Team Iraq 6 (HTT IZ6) assigned to the 2BCT/1AD from OCT 2007 to OCT 2008. Upon his redeployment to the US he served as the US Army Human Terrain System Strategic Advisor through June 2009. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the 2BCT/1AD, the US Army Human Terrain System, or the US Army.