Iran is not trying to develop a nuclear weapon, says US Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta - David Morrison

Iran is not trying to develop a nuclear weapon,
says US Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta

Asked about Iran’s nuclear programme on Face the Nation on CBS on 8 January 2012, US Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, replied: “Are they [the Iranians] trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No.” [1]

Viewers whose opinions on Iran’s nuclear activities have been formed by mainstream media in
the West must have been amazed by this statement. There, the impression is constantly given
Iran definitely has an active programme to develop nuclear weapons, which will yield results
in a year or two. And that has been the impression for the last six or eight years.

One would never guess that it has been the considered view of the US intelligence services
since November 2007 that Iran hasn’t got an active nuclear weapons programme. This
assessment was contained in a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) entitled Iran: Nuclear
Intentions and Capabilities, key judgments of which were made public. These stated, inter alia:
“We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons
program … We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear
weapons program as of mid-2007 …” [2]

An IAEA statement on 4 December 2007 in response to the NIE said:

“IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei received with great interest the new U.S.
National Intelligence Estimate about Iran’s nuclear program which concludes that there has
been no on-going nuclear weapons program in Iran since the fall of 2003. He notes in
particular that the Estimate tallies with the Agency’s consistent statements over the last few
years that, although Iran still needs to clarify some important aspects of its past and present
nuclear activities, the Agency has no concrete evidence of an ongoing nuclear weapons
program or undeclared nuclear facilities in Iran.” [3]

The NIE’s conclusions were a disappointment rather than a relief to President George W Bush,
who complained in his memoir, Decision Points, that the news “tied my hands on the military
side”, saying:

“But after the NIE, how could I possible explain using the military to destroy the nuclear
facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons

(Quoted in Urging Obama to Stop Rush to Iran War by ex-CIA analysts Ray McGovern and
Elizabeth Murray, published by on 30 December 2011 [4])

Subsequent annual threat assessments of the US intelligence community given to the US
Congress were not materially different from the conclusions of the NIE. For example, the
February 2011 assessment to the House of Representatives intelligence committee by the
Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper stated:
“We continue to assess [that] Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons in
part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such
weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually
decide to build nuclear weapons.” [5]

So, when he expressed the opinion on 8 January 2012 that Iran hadn’t got a nuclear weapons
programme, Defense Secretary Panetta was merely repeating the considered view of the US
intelligence services for the past four or five years.

Do the Israeli intelligence services disagree with this assessment? Not significantly, judging by
quotations from key Israeli intelligence service personnel published in the Israeli media.
Israel: Iran still mulling whether to build nuclear bomb was the headline on an article by Amos
Harel in Haaretz on 18 January 2012, just before a recent visit to Israel by the head of the US
military. The article said:
“Iran has not yet decided whether to make a nuclear bomb, according to the intelligence
assessment Israeli officials will present later this week to General Martin Dempsey, chairman
of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“The Israeli view is that while Iran continues to improve its nuclear capabilities, it has not yet
decided whether to translate these capabilities into a nuclear weapon – or, more specifically,
a nuclear warhead mounted atop a missile. Nor is it clear when Iran might make such a
decision.” [6]

This concurs with the view expressed in January 2011 by the head of Israeli military
intelligence, Brigadier General Aviv Kochavi, just after his appointment to the post.

According to an Agence France Presse report, he told the Knesset foreign affairs and defence
committee on 25 January 2011 that “Iran is not currently working on producing a nuclear
weapon but could make one within ‘a year or two’ of taking such a decision” [7]. He added
that Iran “would then need more time to develop an effective missile delivery system for it”.

He also said “it was unlikely that Iran which currently enriches uranium to 20 percent, would
start enriching to the 90 percent level needed for a bomb, because it would be in open breach
of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty exposing it to harsher sanctions or even a US or Israeli
military strike”, adding that “at the moment, it's not in Iran's interest to move their programme

Earlier in January 2011, Meir Dagan, who had just retired as head of Mossad, told the same
Committee that he did not believe that Iran would be able to produce a nuclear weapon until
2015 (see Haaretz, 7 January 2011, [8]). According to Haaretz, he said that “Iran was a long
way from being able to produce nuclear weapons, following a series of failures that had set its
program back by several years”.

So, whereas Israeli political leaders often assert that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons is
imminent, Israel’s intelligence services question whether Iran has made a decision to develop
nuclear weapons. In that, they appear to be at one with the US intelligence services.

David Morrison
23 January 2012