Last week's release of a new National Intelligence Estimate about Iran's nuclear-weapons research had the effect of a bomb exploding in official circles in Washington, D.C. Given the fact that much of the foreign policy of the Bush administration was based on a belief in the reality of an Iranian effort to gain nuclear capability, the report's claim that Tehran had abandoned its program in 2003 seemed to leave the president up the proverbial creek without a paddle.
The principal effect of this has been to seemingly vindicate those who have been calling for some sort of entente with the Iranian ayatollahs and their front man, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who's earned infamy by calling for genocide against Israel, among other things.
But outside of the Beltway, the most interesting reactions to this story were from those nations who were supportive of the push to curb Iran's nuclear efforts.
In Jerusalem, Israeli government officials and intelligence operatives were not shy about stating that they thought the NIE was off base, at best. Israel's Mossad may not have a perfect record, but it seems sterling compared to the string of catastrophes that have befallen America's spymasters. Thus, Mossad's belief is that, whatever might have happened in 2003, Iran remains on course for a nuclear weapon. The question the spy agency has posed — which has been echoed elsewhere — about the methodology of the NIE and the possibility of American spies being victimized by Iranian disinformation should not be dismissed.
Unfortunately, many individuals — in this country and elsewhere — believe Israeli assessments of Iran should be taken with a grain of salt, since the Jewish state tops Tehran's potential list of nuclear targets.
The Israelis notwithstanding, perhaps we should be listening to those in Europe who are also expressing misgivings about the NIE. The willingness of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to continue pushing for tougher sanctions against Iran unless it starts complying with international inspections of all nuclear-enrichment activities should make even the most eager of Bush opponents stop and think.
The determination of Iran to confront and provoke the world on this point — and the fact that it claims it's doing so out of economic necessity — is misrepresenting one very significant fact: Iran remains one of the world's leading suppliers of oil.
All of this must be weighed into the decisions that American Jewish groups must make in the coming weeks and months about whether they, too, will continue to talk about Iran, as well as campaign for increased sanctions against it and divestment from companies who do business with it.
Given that policy vis-à-vis Iran has the potential to be a partisan issue in the next presidential election, there is little doubt that some will urge American Jewry to lower its collective voice about this threat. That would be a both a terrible mistake and a dereliction of duty.
Iran is the No. 1 state sponsor of international Islamist terror in the world. And its nuclear program, whether nominally civilian or not, remains a potential tool of genocide — and not only as far as Israel is concerned.
That is why Jewish organizations and their supporters must not be intimidated or silenced by the NIE. Tehran must be confronted and restrained if hopes for peace in the Middle East stand a chance. Regardless of what the NIE says or doesn't say, we have a solemn obligation to raise awareness about this grave and growing threat.