Both reports said Iran would have acquired sufficient uranium for a weapon in the autumn of 2009, which is precisely where we are now.
In November 2007 the then U.S. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell issued a National Intelligence Estimate entitled ‘Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities’, and the brief summary of the classified version received wide coverage because it was suggested that the latest intelligence contradicted an earlier study undertaken in 2005 that had stated that Tehran “currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons”.
The 2007 NIE suggested that in the fall of “2003 Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program”. The problem with the press coverage of this optimistic conclusion is that few commentators noticed that the U.S. Department of Energy, which remains the lead agency in dealing with nuclear issues, declined to sign off on the NIE.
Both NIEs anticipated that Iran would have acquired sufficient highly-enriched uranium for a weapon in the autumn of 2009, which is precisely where we are now, although the situation is far more grave following the disclosure that the Iranians have been developing a hitherto secret underground enrichment facility hidden in the mountains north-east of the holy city of Qom, accessible from the highway to Aliabad.
Work on the site, deep inside a Revolutionary Guard compound, began three years ago and has been monitored constantly, but its exact purpose was not immediately obvious. Iran’s other enrichment site, located at Natanz, was reactivated in July 2004 and has been the focus of Western attention because it was the sole source of weapons-grade HEU. The exposure of the Qom facility suggests the Iranian leadership is speeding up its development programme, and leaves Israel with a dilemma.
The Israelis have a track record of taking the initiative to eliminate the nuclear ambitions of Iraq and Syria, and Iran is no different, except that the Tehran regime denies the holocaust and has publicly declared an intention to eliminate the state of Israel. The question is whether the Israelis should delay, in the hope of a negotiated settlement involving IAEA inspections of all Iranian nuclear sites, or to seize the opportunity to attack before Iran acquires a viable ground defence system.
Further procrastination, argue the hawks, will leave Israel even more vulnerable, so an imminent strike is considered highly likely by some well-informed analysts. The Israelis have practised the operation for months and might even be tempted to deploy a tactical nuclear weapon as a bunker-buster, perhaps issuing a denial later, and even suggesting the atomic contamination is as a consequence of Iranian stocks.