Israel angered by U.S. findings

Officials say intelligence report won't deter campaign against Iran's nuclear efforts

December 05, 2007|By McClatchy-Tribune

JERUSALEM -- Israeli officials, who have been warning that Iran would soon pose a nuclear threat to the world, reacted angrily yesterday to a new U.S. intelligence finding that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons development program in 2003 and to date hasn't resumed trying to produce nuclear weapons.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak directly challenged the new assessment in an interview with Israel's Army Radio, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the new finding wouldn't deter Israel or the United States from pressing its campaign to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability.

"It seems Iran in 2003 halted for a certain period of time its military nuclear program, but as far as we know, it has probably since revived it," Barak said.

"Even after this report, the American stance will still focus on preventing Iran from attaining nuclear capability," Olmert said. "We will expend every effort along with our friends in the U.S. to prevent the Iranians from developing nuclear weapons."

Probably no country felt more blindsided than Israel by the announcement Monday that 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, in a stunning reassessment, had concluded with "high confidence" that Iran had halted its nuclear program in 2003 and with "moderate confidence" that it hadn't restarted that program as of mid-2007.

For years, Israel has been at the forefront of international efforts to isolate Iran, with Israeli intelligence estimates warning that Iran was on the brink of a nuclear "point of no return," an ominous assessment that often fueled calls for a military strike.

Israeli officials also have sought to isolate Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, noting his calls for Israel's destruction and his skepticism that the Holocaust took place.

The U.S. intelligence finding said that evidence "suggests" that Iran isn't as determined as U.S. officials thought to develop a nuclear weapon and that a diplomatic approach that included economic pressure and some nod to Iranian goals for regional influence might persuade Iran to continue to suspend weapons development.

Yesterday morning, Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper called the U.S. findings "a blow below the belt." An analysis in the competing Haaretz newspaper suggested that Israel might come to be viewed as a "panic-stricken rabbit" and said that the U.S. intelligence estimate established "a new, dramatic reality: The military option, American or Israeli, is off the table, indefinitely."

"This is definitely a blow to attempts to stop Iran from becoming nuclear ... and those that were reluctant to go ahead with harsher sanctions will now have a good excuse," said Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

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