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From Israel

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Michael Goldfarb reports on his trip to Israel. Two key observations from Goldfarb:

Iran is the enemy. No matter what question you ask, the answer is the same–Iran is behind all of the current troubles. The Islamic Republic supports Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south. But, the Israelis are somewhat less alarmist about the threat of a nuclear armed Iran than their American counterparts. Why is this? There are a number of reasons, not least of which is polling that indicates a substantial number of Israelis would consider leaving the country if Iran were to develop a nuclear weapon. Israeli politicians seem to fear that an Iranian bomb is inevitable, and that it would therefore be a mistake to hype the threat. Apparently the word has come down from the government that the threat is not to be discussed in existential terms. Which isn’t to say that the threat isn’t existential, just that no one wants to be painted in to a corner. Still, we did hear from at least one intelligence official who thought that a nuclear Iran could be deterred from using the device, even if it would embolden the clerical regime in other areas detrimental to Israeli security. Bottom line, the situation in Israel is bad, and it will be a lot worse if the Iranians succeed in building a bomb.

Israelis don’t buy the NIE. This is a fact, and the explanation for it was interesting. Basically, the two countries approach intelligence differently. According to one former intelligence official we spoke with, and I see no reason to doubt his analysis, American assessments of the Iranian program are shaped almost entirely by the intelligence failures of the Iraq war. That is to say, the American intel community was burned by the failure to find WMD in Iraq, and is thus extremely fearful of overhyping the threat from Iran. On the other hand, the assessment of the Israeli intelligence community is shaped by another event, the Yom Kippur War. They fear underestimating the capabilities of their enemies as they did then, and will err on the side of caution in order to avoid a repeat. Still, one got the sense that the Israelis and their American counterparts are not really so far apart on their estimation of Iranian capabilities, at least privately.

Read the whole thing.


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