The report counters prior claims that Iran is nearing a point in its nuclear program where it would be able to race toward developing nuclear weapons should it choose. It has been previously determined by both U.S. and Israeli officials that Iran has made no decision yet to move towards developing such weapons. A previous assessment that Iran would have the potential capability to develop nuclear arms by late 2012 was first pushed back when the IAEA reported that Iran converted large amounts of its 20 percent enriched uranium into a form difficult to enrich further, thus decreasing its overall stockpile.
According to interviews conducted with Israeli military and intelligence officials, and briefings given over the last two months, that capability is now at least two years away, with some placing their estimates as far back as “winter of 2016″:
“Previous assessments were built on a set of data that has since shifted,” said one Israeli intelligence officer, who spoke to McClatchy only on the condition that he not be identified. He said that in addition to a series of “mishaps” that interrupted work at Iran’s nuclear facilities, Iranian officials appeared to have slowed the program on their own.
“We can’t attribute the delays in Iran’s nuclear program to accidents and sabotage alone,” he said. “There has not been the run towards a nuclear bomb that some people feared. There is a deliberate slowing on their end.”
Israeli officials also noted a widening gap between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statements in public and the intelligence reports that he is receiving. Netanyahu has repeatedly insisted that Iran was nearing the crossing of a “red-line” in its nuclear program, a point at which an Israeli attack to prevent the acquisition of a nuclear breakout capability would be inevitable. Speaking before the United Nations in September, Netanyahu warned the General Assembly that the such a threshold would likely be crossed in Spring or Summer 2013.
Instead, an official in Israel’s Foreign Ministry is quoted insisting that the international sanctions placed upon Iran are, in fact, working. “Iran is progressing carefully, and we think that is because of international pressure led by the U.S.,” the official told McClatchy. That assessment lines up with the opinion of Israel’s Ambassador to the U.N. Ron Prosor, who in 2012 said, “[International sanctions are] much more effective than people think and it might change, hopefully it might change behavior patterns if we continue with it.”
This isn’t the first time the Prime Minister has been at odds with his security apparatus over the level of immediate threat that Iran poses to the country. In 2010, Netanyahu and then Defense Minister Ehud Barak attempted to set the military on high alert to attack Iran “within hours if necessary.” That order was shot down by then-intelligence head Meir Dagan and the Israeli army chief Gabi Ashkenazi. Likewise, there are a multitude of current and former Israeli officials on the record as being opposed to strikes on Iran in the near-term.
Netanyahu is currently forming a government after his party’s lackluster performance in last week’s elections. While domestic issues dominated the run-up to the polls, Netanyahu’s Likud-Beiteinu party was perceived as holding a more militaristic line on Iran.