dal Telegraph del 5 luglio
US Pentagon doubts Israeli intelligence over Iran’s nuclear programme
Tim Shipman in Washington
Pentagon chiefs fear that Israeli plans for an attack on Iran’s nuclear programme will fail to destroy the facilities because neither the CIA nor Mossad knows where every base is located
American commanders worry that Israel will feel compelled to act within the next 12 months with no guarantee that they can do more than slow Iran’s development of a weapon capable of destroying the Jewish state.
Gaps in the intelligence on the precise location and vulnerabilities of Iran’s facilities emerged during recent talks between Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Israeli generals, according to an official familiar with the discussions who has briefed Iran experts in Washington and London.
The assessment emerged as Iran in effect thumbed its nose at proposals by the West to freeze its uranium enrichment programme in exchange for easing economic sanctions. In its reply, sent to the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, Iran said it was prepared to negotiate but only from a position of equality – and made no reference to the specific proposals.
At the same time Gen Mohammed al-Jafari, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, warned that any attack on Iran would be "regarded as the beginning of war".
A former head of Mossad, the agency whose main responsibility is overseas intelligence, told The Sunday Telegraph last week that Israel would have to act within a year to prevent Iran securing nuclear weapons.
Those familiar with the Israeli-American military talks believe that Israel is still determined to act before Iran has enough highly enriched uranium to build a bomb, and before Tehran has acquired the Russian SA-20 air defence system to protect its nuclear facilities. "The Israelis have a real sense of urgency," the official said. "They are stepping up their preparations. But the Israelis and the Americans are worried about the other’s lack of intelligence.
"The Americans had spies in Iran until they were rounded up in 2003 and now they do not have much by way of humint [human intelligence] on the ground. The Israelis have better information. But the Americans went away from the meetings unconvinced that the Israelis have enough intelligence on where to strike, and with little confidence that they will be able to destroy the nuclear programme."
The shortage of good intelligence could explain reports that President George W Bush has quietly sanctioned a dramatic increase in covert operations by American special forces inside Iran. These intelligence gaps lay behind Admiral Mullen’s decision to speak out on Wednesday against military action, saying it would be "extremely stressful" to "open a third front" in the war on terror. But the admiral is at odds with hawks in the Bush administration, led by Vice-President Dick Cheney.
A former CIA officer with three decades of Iranian experience said: "Their belief… is that the US would get the blame from Iran whether or not we play a major role in any attack, so we might as well do the job properly."
Former defence and intelligence officers who advise the Pentagon have disclosed that the US military is looking into possible outcomes for military attacks featuring varying levels of American involvement.
The ex-CIA officer told The Sunday Telegraph that the planned attacks ranged from a full-blown assault on 2,000 targets inside Iran to logistics and intelligence support for Israel, if the Jewish state decided to go it alone.
The United States is preparing ways to cope with retaliation from Iran, likely to include attempts to cut off oil supplies, block the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf and launch attacks on American naval ships there and on US bases in Bahrain. The US Navy has recently changed its rules of engagement for warships in the Gulf to make them better able to combat "swarming" attacks by large numbers of small boats, used by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
Iran could also attack Israel’s Dimona nuclear facility, or even oil production and processing facilities elsewhere in the Gulf, according to a report published last week by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an influential think tank with close links to both the US and Israeli governments.