“Iran will not achieve a nuclear bomb before 2015, if that,” Dagan said, according to a transcript obtained by Reuters.
Dagan, who in June 2009 told Israeli lawmakers that Iran could have its first nuclear warhead by 2014, attributed his valedictory timeline to a variety of factors including domestic ferment in Iran and the bite of international sanctions.
Iran’s enrichment drive has also suffered technical setbacks, possibly a sign of foreign sabotage in incidents such as the apparent corruption of some Iranian nuclear machinery by the Stuxnet computer worm.
Dagan also warned that preventive attacks in Iran’s nuclear sites “could spur Iran to pull out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and pursue its program entirely free of U.N. inspections.” Brookings’ Ken Pollack explored this and other consequences in an article for the National Interest in October.
This latest in a series of ever-shifting timelines come only a week after Deputy Israeli Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said that the West has three years to stop Iran’s nuclear program. According to Dagan, it’s now four — and that’s only if Iran were to decide today to put the pedal to the metal.
According to the CIA’s most recent public report (pdf), there’s no evidence yet that Iran has made such a decision:
We continue to assess Iran is keeping open the option to produce nuclear weapons, though we do not know whether Tehran will eventually decide to produce nuclear weapons. Iran continues to develop a range of capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so.
Obama has made boosting cooperation with Israel on the Iranian nuclear issue a key element of his policy, and significantly increased the level of strategic dialogue and the depth of intelligence coordination between the two. According to one Israeli official I spoke to last summer, that coordination is “even better than under President Bush.” Nice to see that coordination show some results.
Paul Pillar considers some possible reasons for Dagan’s statement, and concludes, “Whatever the combination of explanations, one should not get too encouraged by whatever good news is embedded in all this, because it is ultimately just a matter of timing.”
Days of reckoning have been postponed, not eliminated. Israeli pressure and agitation on this issue will persist, and it will intensify some time in the future. And whatever is said about timing does nothing to address the more fundamental questions of what harm an Iranian nuclear weapon really would or would not do if ultimately is not precluded, and what harm a resort to war would do instead.