As I Was Saying // Ben FrankelCountdown toward Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities has begun

Published 3 February 2009

Iran has launched its first domestically made satellite into orbit; missile carrying satellite can be used to carry nuclear warheads to Israel — and to Europe; the world has not found a way to stop or slow down Iran’s nuclear weapons program; this means an Israeli attack on Iran is becoming more likely

We have just created a new award: Let’s call it “The What Was I Thinking About?” award for official statements by the president or his administration. The award will be given for statements that already looked suspiciously ill-advised when they were issued, but which, with the passage of time, were confirmed as inane or silly. The Obama presidency is too new, so we look back for the Bush administration to provide the first winners. We can think of at least three utterances which merit consideration. Here is our decision: The two runner-ups are President Bush’s 1 May 2003 “Mission Accomplished” statement on the USS Abraham Lincoln, and his 12 September 2005 “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” The winner, by a wide margin, is the December 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) which concluded that Iran had “halted” its nuclear weapons program.

Back in February 2008 we wrote that the NIE document was “strange, misleading, and poorly timed.” We were joined in this assessment by the very bosses of the team which produced the NIE — then-Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and then-CIA Director Michael Hayden. McConnell admitted, in a March 2008 testimony in Congress, that the “wording” of the December NIE was poor, and that inferences drawn from it that Iran had stopped its relentless march toward the bomb were wrong. As for Hayden: “CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said Sunday that he believes Iran is still pursuing a nuclear bomb, even though the U.S. intelligence community, including his own agency, reached a consensus judgment last year that the Islamic Republic had halted its nuclear weapons work in 2003” (Los Angeles Times, 31 March 2008).

Why this walk down memory lane? Because Iran has just made a significant step toward nuclear weapon delivery capability by launching a satellite into space. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the launch had been successful and that with it Iran had “officially achieved a presence in space.” The satellite, carried on a Safir-2 rocket, was meant for telecommunication and research purposes, state TV said.

Nations in the Middle East and Europe are worried. France has expressed concern, saying the technology used was “very similar” to that used in ballistic missiles. Iran insists its intent is peaceful. Officials from six world powers — the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France, and Germany — are due to meet in Germany on Wednesday to discuss the nuclear stand-off.

The BBC’s Jon Leyne reports that the launch of the Omid (Hope)