As they tend to do with every bit of news having to do with Iran, the Washington War Party is trying to spin the recent disclosure of a nuclear facility near the seminary city of Qom as a debunking of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (pdf), which stated that “we judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program,” but also assessed “with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.”
Linking to this Weekly Standard blog post — by Thomas Joscelyn, one of the few people still claiming that torture stopped an attack on L.A.’s Library Tower — Newt Gingrich tweeted yesterday that “Iran’s hidden facility at Qom shows how wrong the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran was.”
That’s not true. As the New York Times reports this morning, “American spy agencies have stood firm in their conclusion” — first made public in the 2007 NIE — “that while Iran may ultimately want a bomb, the country halted work on weapons design in 2003 and probably has not restarted that effort.”
This isn’t to suggest that the Qom site isn’t cause for serious concern. As to the question of whether the facility demonstrates that Iran was prepared, at some point, to proceed covertly with a nuclear weapon, Iran analyst Gary Sick surmises:
If you start with the conviction, as I do, that Iran was and is determined to develop a nuclear capability that would permit it to “break out” and build a nuclear weapon if and when a decision was made by Iran’s highest authorities, probably in response to a direct military threat to Iran by another nuclear power, then the creation of this site would serve two logical purposes.
First, it would disperse Iran’s enrichment capabilities, making it much more difficult for an enemy to destroy its nuclear program with a single strike. If the facility was unknown to the enemy, it would provide an immediate fallback capability in the event the enrichment site at Natanz was destroyed or severely damaged. It was very likely a component of Iran’s post-strike Plan B and assumed that any internal opposition to a nuclear weapon would have been removed by the military attack. As such, this facility would very likely be intended to produce a nuclear weapon.
In other words, in Sick’s view — and granted this is all speculation — the Qom facility was likely intended to produce a weapon — in the event of a strike on Iran, which would both vindicate the claims of Iran’s War Party about the need for an Iranian nuclear deterrent, while removing Iranian domestic opposition to obtaining one. It’s darkly humorous, then, that the American War Party is trying to spin the existence of the Qom site as evidence that we need to strike Iran. It’s turtles all the way down with these guys.
It also worth noting one reason that the NYT article suggests U.S. intelligence agencies are being so meticulous about what the Iran data do and do not show: The Iraq debacle, in which the Bush administration and its media allies misrepresented the intelligence about Iraqi WMD, and then turned around and blamed the CIA when Iraq’s reality didn’t match the Bush administration’s apocalyptic fantasy. So, in their attempt to get America into yet another war, conservatives are being stymied by their lies about the last one. That, my friends, is poetic justice we can believe in.