Page 1 in tomorrow's…
…Late last year, international inspectors estimated that Iran had 3,800 centrifuges spinning, but American intelligence officials now estimate that the figure is 4,000 to 5,000, enough to produce about one weapon’s worth of uranium every eight months or so.
While declining to be specific, one American official dismissed the latest covert operations against Iran as “science experiments.” One senior intelligence official argued that as Mr. Bush prepared to leave office, the Iranians were already so close to achieving a weapons capacity that they were unlikely to be stopped.
Others disagreed, making the point that the Israelis would not have been dissuaded from conducting an attack if they believed that the American effort was unlikely to prove effective.…
Israel’s effort to obtain the weapons, refueling capacity and permission to fly over Iraq for an attack on Iran grew out of its disbelief and anger at an American intelligence assessment completed in late 2007 that concluded that Iran had effectively suspended its development of nuclear weapons four years earlier.
That conclusion also stunned Mr. Bush’s national security team — and Mr. Bush himself, who was deeply suspicious of the conclusion, according to officials who discussed it with him.
The assessment, a National Intelligence Estimate, was based on a trove of Iranian reports obtained by penetrating Iran’s computer networks.
Those reports indicated that Iranian engineers had been ordered to halt development of a nuclear warhead in 2003, even while they continued to speed ahead in enriching uranium, the most difficult obstacle to building a weapon.
The “key judgments” of the National Intelligence Estimate, which were publicly released, emphasized the suspension of the weapons work.
The public version made only glancing reference to evidence described at great length in the 140-page classified version of the assessment: the suspicion that Iran had 10 or 15 other nuclear-related facilities, never opened to international inspectors, where enrichment activity, weapons work or the manufacturing of centrifuges might be taking place.…
The Israelis responded angrily and rebutted the American report, providing American intelligence officials and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with evidence that they said indicated that the Iranians were still working on a weapon.
While the Americans were not convinced that the Iranian weapons development was continuing, the Israelis were not the only ones highly critical of the United States report. Secretary Gates, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said the report had presented the evidence poorly, underemphasizing the importance of Iran’s enrichment activity and overemphasizing the suspension of a weapons-design effort that could easily be turned back on.
In an interview, Mr. Gates said that in his whole career he had never seen “an N.I.E. that had such an impact on U.S. diplomacy,” because “people figured, well, the military option is now off the table.”
Prime Minister Olmert came to the same conclusion. He had previously expected, according to several Americans and Israeli officials, that Mr. Bush would deal with Iran’s nuclear program before he left office. “Now,” said one American official who bore the brunt of Israel’s reaction, “they didn’t believe he would.”
Early in 2008, the Israeli government signaled that it might be preparing to take matters into its own hands. In a series of meetings, Israeli officials asked Washington for a new generation of powerful bunker-busters, far more capable of blowing up a deep underground plant than anything in Israel’s arsenal of conventional weapons. They asked for refueling equipment that would allow their aircraft to reach Iran and return to Israel. And they asked for the right to fly over Iraq.
Mr. Bush deflected the first two requests, pushing the issue off, but “we said ‘hell no’ to the overflights,” one of his top aides said.…
There is much, much more in the Times report. Try to read all of it, if you can, before commenting.
[Hat Tip: Dr. Gershon Mendel.]