Israeli FM on Iranian Nukes

I mentioned in “this post”:http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/1206/dni-on-iran-nuclear-estimate earlier that Negroponte was asked about Israeli estimates RE: Iran’s nuclear potential.

I neglected to mention that Tzipi Livni, Israel’s Foreign Minister “was on CNN this weekend”:http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0609/17/le.01.html discussing that very topic:

BLITZER: How much time do you believe the international community has before Iran crosses into an area of no return, in effect has a nuclear bomb?

LIVNI: The crucial moment is not the day of the bomb. The crucial moment is the day in which Iran will master the enrichment, the knowledge of enrichment.

BLITZER: And how long is that?

LIVNI: A few months from now.

BLITZER: What does that mean, a few months?

LIVNI: A few months, I mean…

BLITZER: Six months?

LIVNI: No, I don’t know for sure, because it takes time and this something that they have to try, in doing so…

BLITZER: Because other Israelis have said that would be the point of no return.

LIVNI: I don’t want to use the words “point of no return,” because the Iranians are using it against the international community. They are trying to send a message that it’s too late; you can stop your attempts because it’s too late.

It’s not too late. They have a few more months. And it is crucial because this is in the interests of the international community. The world cannot afford a nuclear Iran. It’s not only a threat to Israel. The recent understanding, also, of moderate Arab states is that Iran is a threat to the region. And I believe that this is time for sanctions.

BLITZER: Is this the biggest threat facing Israel?

12 thoughts on “Israeli FM on Iranian Nukes

  1. hass

    Other predictions regarding Iranian nukes:

    Late 1991: In congressional reports and CIA assessments, the United States estimates that there is a ‘high degree of certainty that the government of Iran has acquired all or virtually all of the components required for the construction of two to three nuclear weapons.’ A February 1992 report by the U.S. House of Representatives suggests that these two or three nuclear weapons will be operational between February and April 1992.”

    “February 24, 1993: CIA director James Woolsey says that Iran is still 8 to 10 years away from being able to produce its own nuclear weapon, but with assistance from abroad it could become a nuclear power earlier.”

    “January 1995: The director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, John Holum, testifies that Iran could have the bomb by 2003.”

    “January 5, 1995: U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry says that Iran may be less than five years from building an atomic bomb, although ‘how soon…depends how they go about getting it.’”

    “April 29, 1996: Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres says ‘he believes that in four years, they [Iran] may reach nuclear weapons.’”

    “October 21, 1998: General Anthony Zinni, head of U.S. Central Command, says Iran could have the capacity to deliver nuclear weapons within five years. ‘If I were a betting man,’ he said, ‘I would say they are on track within five years, they would have the capability.’”

    “January 17, 2000: A new CIA assessment on Iran’s nuclear capabilities says that the CIA cannot rule out the possibility that Iran may possess nuclear weapons. The assessment is based on the CIA’s admission that it cannot monitor Iran’s nuclear activities with any precision and hence cannot exclude the prospect that Iran may have nuclear weapons.”

    SOURCE: Cordesman and al-Rodhan

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  2. abcd

    I think this – along with 9/11 and the campaign in Iraq – just goes to show that the use of the word “intelligence” in these estimates has really got to go…

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  3. hass

    “The Iranians may have an atom bomb within two years, the authoritative Jane’s Defense Weekly warned. That was in 1984, two decades ago.

    Four years later, the world was again put on notice,
    this time by Iraq, that Tehran was at the nuclear
    threshold, and in 1992 the CIA foresaw atomic arms in
    Iranian hands by 2000. Then U.S. officials pushed that
    back to 2003. And in 1997 the Israelis confidently
    predicted a new date: 2005….”

    SOURCE: AP February 27, 2006 – Ever a ‘threat,’ never an atomic power…

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  4. Andrew Foland

    “The crucial moment is the day in which Iran will master the enrichment…”

    This is just nonsensical. Enrichment is an engineering challenge, not a scientific one. There is no point at which you know “the secret” to enrichment; there’s just a lot of hard work. You can be better (i.e. faster or purer) at it, or worse at it. You can be contaminated with lots of molybdenum gunking up your machines and slowing you down, or you can figure that out and go faster. But for the most part there aren’t really “magic threshholds”. Just more experience or less, better craft or worse.

    You need good engineers and scientists to do the enrichment, but not great ones. Any nation the size of Iran has good technical people in plentiful supply.

    Doubtless we’ll soon hear how we must strike before the moment when Iranians learn the binding energies of the nucleons…

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  5. Andy

    As Hass has pointed out (one of the few things I agree with him/her on), intelligence estimates of this kind are inherently prone to inaccuracy. An accurate judgment requires so many variables that are unknowable (even to the Iranians) that it’s ultimately an impossible exercise. The required assumptions are quite severe: How quickly can Iranian engineers overcome the inevitable technical challenges? What is the regime’s goal and their timeline for achieving it? How is the nuclear program prioritized in terms of resource allocation? Is Iran receiving any further covert outside assistance (like AQ Khan)?

    The most important considerations are, in my view, regime intent and priority. All other factors are subordinate. Unfortunately, those primary considerations are the ones we know the least about.

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  6. hass

    Well “we” may know a lot more about AQ than we let on:

    CIA told Dutch not to prosecute Pakistani nuclear
    scientist Khan, former [Dutch] premier says – By
    ASSOCIATED PRESS August 9, 2005

    and

    Dutch court loses Abdul Qadeer Khan’s files, judge
    suspects CIA Sat Sep
    10, 2005 7:37 AM ET

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  7. John Smith

    All of this is far simpler than it sounds. Livni simply isn’t very clever (she reminds me of Hilary Clinton), so I’ll clarify what she meant. The crucial point is when Iran enriches a small quantity of uranium to weapons grade. Then it can enrich enough for several nukes over a certain period of time, which means you go and bomb it as soon as you “find out” that some uranium has been enriched to weapons grade.
    As has been pointed out by others in this thread, intelligence estimates are not worth the paper they’ve been written on. So what happens is you bomb the place as soon as you are not sure they haven’t enriched some uranium to nuke grade and not when some dude in the IC says it might happen. Overall, I am surprised people even take notice of intelligence estimates after Iraq.

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  8. Andy

    Hass,

    The CIA reportedly asked the Dutch not to prosecute back in 1975 – I’m not sure how that applies today since Khan did not start selling secrets until the late 1980’s.

    The CIA most likely did not want him arrested because they were closely monitoring him and his activities. Arrest would have undoubtedly disrupted the flow of intelligence they were getting. In fact, that intelligence was probably used as evidence to cut off aid to Pakistan in 1979 because of their nuclear program.

    20/20 hindsight, as they say.

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  9. Mark

    Actually the article says the CIA pressed the Dutch to drop the charges in 1986, and the reason was so they supposedly could continue to track his activities. If this desire to maintain a “flow of intelligence” resulted in Khan passing nuclear secret to others then one has to wonder…

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  10. Andy

    Well, by 1986, Khan had been out of the Netherlands for 10 years and he’d been convicted once (in 1983) by a Dutch court in absentia, but that was later overturned on a technicality. If the Dutch PM felt so strongly about it, why did he not ignore the CIA advice and go through with the retrial in 1986? Lubbers, who is not exactly pro-American, said, “Under the influence of the so called Cold War, all ‘western’ intelligence services were ordered around by the CIA, and were told to back off so the CIA could follow Khan’s spy activities.’’ Yeah, right, the CIA is the puppet master. Lubbers’ claims were directly contradicted by the Dutch minister of Justice, Donner, who said at the time, “nothing of the kind has happened, the CIA had nothing to do with it.”

    This supposed CIA interference begs the question, why did the CIA not intervene to prevent the 1983 trial and conviction? Preventing a retrial in 1986 would largely have been meaningless since the chance of Khan returning to the Netherlands was zero and it would have no effect on his ability to sell technology later.

    The CIA is always a popular scapegoat when leaders, both foreign and domestic, made a decision that looks bad in hindsight. I’m still looking for a full transcript of the radio interview, but it seems likely the PM was asked why he didn’t go ahead with the retrial. This whole episode smacks of pure political CYA after the fact by Lubbers.

    Mark,

    “If this desire to maintain a “flow of intelligence” resulted in Khan passing nuclear secret to others then one has to wonder…” One has to wonder what? Why the innuendo? What you and Hass seem to suggest (please correct me if I’m wrong), without coming out and directly saying it, is that the CIA knew and was complicit in Khan’s proliferation activities to Iran, North Korea and Libya. Although I would certainly agree that the Pakistani program was largely given a pass in the 1980’s (mainly to ensure Pakistani support to our anti-Soviet Afghan operations), it’s a stretch at best to say the CIA would allow the transfer of nuclear technology to our three primary adversaries (apart from the USSR) during the 1980s. Libya and Iran were quite busy murdering Americans (include CIA agents) all over Europe and the Mediterranean and North Korea was approaching the zenith of its military power.

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  11. mark gubrud

    The list of quoted past misestimates of Iran’s bomb potential is very amusing, but the situation today is quite different. The official IC estimate of 5-10 years for a production capability is based on much more intensive scrutiny of the available information, and is basically what one would conclude on the basis of information provided by the Iranian government to the IAEA and now available publicly.

    Reply

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