Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 19:57 pm (KSA) 16:57 pm (GMT)

Did anyone notice Mossad's new outlook on an Iran bomb?

Yossi Melman

Paradoxically, the current crisis in Iran is producing two contradictory impacts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The first clear outcome was the statement made by head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, two weeks ago. In a surprise move, Dagan dismissed the previous assessments of the Israeli intelligence community regarding Iran's nuclear program and stated that Iran's secret military program would mature only in 2014.

 In saying that the deadline for an Iranian bomb is 2014, Dagan accepted a Central Intelligence Agency assessment that Israel had criticized in the past. The CIA has repeatedly and consistently determined that Iran would have its first bomb not before 2015 

For 15 years, Israel's Military Intelligence and the Mossad have regularly altered their assessment regarding the date when Iran's nuclear program becomes operational. The deadline has been constantly pushed forward, from the late 1990s to the beginning and then the middle of this decade, and finally to the 2009-2010 period. And now suddenly, out of the blue this has become 2014. These frequent fluctuations have damaged the reputation of Israel's intelligence agencies worldwide and have confused the public. The intelligence estimates have been perceived by many in the world as "alarmist" and designed to serve political and diplomatic goals.

In saying that the deadline for an Iranian bomb is 2014, Dagan accepted a Central Intelligence Agency assessment that Israel had criticized in the past. The CIA has repeatedly and consistently determined that Iran would have its first bomb not before 2015.

Seemingly, there is no direct connection between the semi-revolution that has been taking place in the streets of Iran and the Mossad analysis. Conceivably, Dagan unintentionally and even innocently introduced his estimate in the midst of the Iranian crisis. But the timing of his declaration evidently proves the opposite. Knowing how cunning and calculating the chief of Mossad is, I can only wonder why he chose this occasion to publicize his estimate and did not wait, say, for a few weeks or at least days. Thus, it should not be ruled out that he has a hidden personal or organizational agenda.

One way or another, Dagan effectively undermined the "party line" and the agenda of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who only a few weeks ago tried to convince the Obama administration that "Iran [must come] first." Netanyahu and his government, who are not ready to freeze the settlements, withdraw from the West Bank and enter into a peace deal with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, hoped to persuade the world that the Iranian nuclear threat was more dangerous and acute not only for Israel but for the stability of the Middle East; therefore, that this required immediate attention, while peace with the Palestinians and with Syria could wait.

No more. Not only has a military option, in other words an attack by the Israel Air Force on Iranian nuclear installations, become more remote, but Israel has also lost its Iranian excuse not to accelerate peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

 The first victims of such a development will be Hamas and Hezbullah. They will most probably be marginalized in the Iranian's regime's inner discourse and will get less financial, military, diplomatic and moral support from their Iranian benefactors 

Still, this severe home-made blow to Netanyahu's hopes and plans is balanced off by another ramification favorable to Israel. Iran's foreign and defense policy - its nuclear program and support for Hamas and Hizbullah - has not been a real issue in motivating the Iranian demonstrations and protests. True, during the election campaign opposition leader Mir Hussein Mousavi publicly expressed his opinion that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's provocative statements didn't serve Iranian interests and image abroad. Nevertheless, foreign policy issues were a minor factor in these demonstrations, if at all.

Yet, regardless of the final outcome of the crisis, and even if Ahmadinejad comes back as president for a second term, the ayatollahs' regime has clearly suffered a major blow, and its self-confidence has been shaken. This will force the regime to devote more time, energy and resources to fixing the economy and trying to accommodate some of the concerns raised by the demonstrators. Foreign policy is bound to be a lesser priority.

The first victims of such a development will be Hamas and Hezbullah. They will most probably be marginalized in the Iranian's regime's inner discourse and will get less financial, military, diplomatic and moral support from their Iranian benefactors.

This can be good news for Israel as well as for the Palestinian Authority and moderate forces in the Arab world. Under normal circumstances, such a development might serve as the launching pad for a peace process. Yet that is doubtful. Netanyahu has no serious intention of moving forward on peace and will continue to search for new excuses to replace the vanished Iranian pretext in order to prolong his delaying tactics and politically survive and hang onto power.

On the other hand, the Palestinian leadership is highly divided and lacks the courage, vision and power to compromise on core issues important to the Israeli national consensus (Jerusalem and the refugees) and thus will play once again into the hands of a rigid Israeli government.

All in all, the opportunity that the Iranian crisis is providing will probably evaporate sooner rather than later.


* Published in Lebanon's THE DAILY STAR on June 28. Yossi Melman writes for the Israeli daily Haaretz on intelligence and strategic affairs, including nuclear and regional issues. He is coauthor of "The Nuclear Sphinx: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran."

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