February 27, 2015 | The Jewish Chronicle

What Evidence? Guardian Presents Dodgy Dossier on Iran’s Bomb Project

The Guardian and al Jazeera were handed another treasure trove of leaked intelligence files this week, purportedly from a South African intelligence source. The documents include dossiers allegedly supplied by Mossad to its South African counterpart.

One purported Mossad analysis from October 2012 assesses Iran's nuclear progress and, according to the Guardian report, signed by Seumas Milne, Ewen MacAskill and Al-Jazeera's Clayton Swisher, it “starkly” contradicts Israel's Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, and his September 2012 UN Speech.

Famously, Mr Netanyahu showed the UN a graphic image of Iran's progress towards a nuclear bomb and warned the world that the Islamic Republic was a year away from having enough enriched uranium to produce its first nuclear weapon.

Questions of authenticity aside, it is hard to see where the contradiction is. Mr Netanyahu's speech made it clear that, had Iran's stockpile of 20 per cent enriched uranium crossed the 250 kg threshold, Iran would be technically within months of acquiring nuclear weapons.

The report speaks openly of a reconstituted military programme and assesses the technical hurdles facing Iran and progress it was making towards creating weapons-grade fissile material. It also notes that the Iranians had begun to divert parts of the 20 per cent enriched uranium to fuel production – which may only
suggest they heeded Mr Netanyahu's red line and chose not to test Israel's resolve.

That things panned out differently since then has more to do with Iran's realisation that America's red lines, unlike Israel's, are not serious; and the fact that the concessions granted to Iran on 20 per cent enriched uranium under the current terms of the nuclear interim agreement are reversible.

At a time when negotiations over Iran's nuclear programme are reaching a critical stage, it is only natural for journalists to jump to conclusions, especially if those conclusions fit their worldview and their papers' editorial line. Still, one should be suspicious of this type of analysis.

This is first and foremost due to the lack of hard evidence in the document about any discrepancy between Mr Netanyahu's public messaging and his secret service's assessments.

The purported Mossad file, after all, is pretty clear about the existence of a clandestine military programme and Iran's desire to have that programme up to speed if “a political decision” were to be made to produce nuclear weapons.

Mr Netanyahu's main source of information for his public assessments of Iran's nuclear threat is the same Mossad that purportedly provided the briefing now in the Guardian's possession.

If a clash had indeed occurred, one would need to find the evidence somewhere, but the briefing offers none. Mr Netanyahu never removed his supposedly fierce critic, Meir Dagan, from the Mossad's directorate; and Mr Dagan's successor, Tamir Pardo, was very much of the same mind as his predecessor.

It is hard to imagine a clash, given that. The only available evidence is in a couple of bonkers stories and nothing more.

Finally, the briefing was for an intelligence service of a country, South Africa, whose commercial and diplomatic posture vis-à-vis Iran suggests the Israelis would be very guarded about sharing more than the minimum required by politeness and intelligence etiquette. Unsurprisingly, the document reflects information that already exists, for the most part, in the public domain.

Emanuele Ottolenghi is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies

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Issues:

Iran Iran Sanctions