Against all common sense and uncommon wisdom, it looksincreasingly possible that Barack Obama, the Democratic leader whoonce-upon-a-campaign seduced the world by pledging to “sit downand talk with America’s enemies,” will resort to armed conflictto stamp out Tehran’s nascent nuclear program.Or were Obama’s comments on Iran this week the latest bluff inthe geopolitical poker game known as the Middle East?”I have been crystal clear about my position on Iranpossessing a nuclear weapon. That is a red line for us. It is notonly something that would be dangerous for Israel. It would bedangerous for the world,” Obama told Israeli Channel 2 ahead ofa scheduled visit next week with Israeli Prime Minister BenjaminNetanyahu.”Right now, we think that it would take over a year or so forIran to actually develop a nuclear weapon,” Obama said, whilenot neglecting to add the “all options remain on the table”caveat.This line of thinking by the US Commander-in-Chief indicatesthat Obama and Netanyahu are beginning to show some strongparallels in their position on Iran – despite what the USintelligence community thinks on the subject.Rewind to December 2007 when the United States released itsNational Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, which represents theconsensus view of all 16 American spy agencies. That assessmentunequivocally concluded that Iran halted its nuclear weaponsprogram in 2003.The estimate declared with “high confidence” that anIranian program intended to transform raw material into a nuclearweapon “has been dismantled since 2003,” adding that thehalt “was directed primarily in response to increasinginternational scrutiny and pressure.”The NIE estimate stated matter-of-factly that Iran’s enrichmentprogram could still provide Tehran with enough raw materials toproduce a nuclear weapon “sometime by the middle of nextdecade” (2025) – a timetable that was essentially consistentwith previous estimates.Rather than portraying Iran as a rogue country hell-bent onacquiring nuclear weapons, the 2007 NIE estimate stated that Iran’s“decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than arush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic andmilitary costs.”That is certainly not the usual image of Iran that we have seenin the Western media.It needs to be remembered that this very un-apocalyptic versionof Iran’s nuclear capacities was released in the hyper-hawkish Bushyears, a period when the US war machine was in high gear in the Waron Terror. In fact, the tepid conclusions of the Bush-eraassessment eventually forced the Obama administration to tone downits missile defense plans in Western Europe, which had been devisedspecifically with roguish Iran in mind.This week, US National Intelligence Director James Clapper saidTehran has made progress in its nuclear program, but “we assessIran could not divert safeguarded material and produce aweapon-worth of WGU [weapons-grade uranium] before this activity isdiscovered.”Iran’s nuclear sites are subject to monitoring from theInternational Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as well as secretsurveillance from US and other intelligence services.Meanwhile, Obama’s threat of imposing a “red line” with regardsto Iran’s nuclear program carried unmistakable echoes ofNetanyahu’s UN speech in September where the IsraeliPM, armed with a cartoon of a bomb complete withburning fuse, spoke of drawing a “clear red line” that Iran shouldnot be permitted to pass in terms of producing weapons-gradeuranium.Netanyahu warned that Iran could acquire “enough enricheduranium for its first bomb” as early as the spring-summer 2013– a prediction that has not been revised despite recent UN reportsthat show Tehran has decreased its stockpiles of 20-percent fissilematerial.The fissile material in nuclear weapons usually contains atleast 85 percent of weapons-grade Uranium-235, which is far beyondIran’s present enrichment levels of 20 percent.The glaring question is how 16 US intelligence agencies couldhave predicted in 2007 that Iran – if it chooses to continue downthe nuclear path – could have nuclear weapons by 2025, yet Obamawas heard just this week telling Israeli television that Tehrancould possess such weapons in “over a year or so.”Given the crippling effects of sanctions aimed at Iran, togetherwith less diplomatic means of halting Tehran’s nuclear ambitions,as witnessed by the Stuxnet computer virus that attacked a uraniumenrichment facility at Natanz, it seems that Netanyahu and Obama’sprediction for a nuclear weapon falls far short of reality.In the meantime, the world is forced to contemplate whetherObama is simply playing up to the home crowd ahead of next week’svisit to Israel, or if the US leader is attempting to exertpressure on Tehran to give up on its nuclear research.Finally, there is the possibility that Barack Obama reallybelieves his own rhetoric and – as was the case with former IraqiPresident Saddam Hussein, who was accused in 2003 of harboringweapons of mass destruction and paid with his life for theerroneous intelligence – the chances of a military misadventure inIran seem to have increased dramatically.With a domestic economy in shambles, and the nation crackedpolitically down the middle between the haves and have-nots, willBarack Obama be tempted to drag the United States into a war withIran as a memorable final act of his sagging presidency?Perhaps not even Benjamin Netanyahu knows the answer to thatquestion.
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