Skeptical Republicans calling for review of Iran intel
Nick Juliano
Published: Friday December 7, 2007
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Meanwhile, pro-Israel groups fear softening approach with news of nuke abandonment

Republicans who accepted with open arms the 2002 assessment of Iraq's weapons capabilities -- which was later shown to be flawed -- that led to a US invasion of that country have suddenly grown skeptical of a newly released report on Iran that is seen as tamping down calls for military action there.

Meanwhile, Israel is warning Iran that it is still considering a military strike on the rogue regime.

"No option needs to be off the table," Israeli deputy defense minister Matan Vilnai told Army Radio Friday, according to The Guardian.

"Several of Israel's Iran experts say the American rethink on the threat posed by Iran had ruled out a US military strike and probably an Israeli strike too, at least for now," reports the paper's Jerusalem correspondent Rory McCarthy. "However, Israel's political hawks continue to keep the threat of action alive."

Back in the US, legislation is expected in the Senate next week that would establish a bipartisan, political commission to examine the conclusions of this week's National Intelligence Estimate on Iran and evaluate the raw intelligence that formed it, the Washington Post reports Friday.

"Iran is one of the greatest threats in the world today," insisted Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), days after the most-up-to-date assessment of the US intelligence committee found the country's nuclear weapons program has been dormant since 2003.

"Getting the intelligence right is absolutely critical, not only on Iran's capability but its intent," Ensign continued in an interview with the paper. "So now there is a huge question raised, and instead of politicizing that report, let's have a fresh set of eyes -- objective yes -- look at it."

The GOP's newfound skepticism towards intelligence estimates starkly contrasts the approach lawmakers took toward Iraq in late 2002. A National Intelligence Estimate that found -- incorrectly, it turned out -- Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear programs and possessed chemical and biological weapons.

That NIE was printed on Oct. 1, 2002, and it took less than two weeks for Congress to send President Bush a resolution authorizing his pending invasion of the country.

Intelligence agencies learned from their mistakes of 2002 in producing this week's latest estimate on Iran. But Republicans in congress, neoconservative commentators and pro-Isreal advocates are now accusing US intelligence agencies of cooking the books or politicizing intelligence.

"The summary strikes me as more of a political document as distinguished from an intelligence document," neoconservative Norman Podhoretz, a foreign policy adviser to Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign and vocal proponent of bombing Iran, told the Post.

Meanwhile, American Jewish organizations are scrambling to modify their message on Iran now that intelligence analysts believe it does not have an active nuclear program.

While acknowledging the new intelligence estimates, Jewish and pro-Israel groups should "continue explaining in an intelligent way why a nuclear Iran would be dangerous," Malcolm Hoenliein, executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations told the group's members in a conference call this week, according to The Jewish Daily Forward.

Leading politicians in Israel -- which believes Iran would launch an attack on it if Tehran acquires nuclear weapons -- have gone further in questioning the NIE's findings.

It is in total contradiction to what we know, and it is in many ways self-contradictory, because it claims the nuclear program stopped but that uranium enrichment continues to this day,” Ephraim Sneh, a Labor Party stalwart and member of the Knesset intelligence committee, told reporters, according to the Forward. “Uranium enrichment is the key, so what exactly did they stop in 2003?… Do these analysts buy the argument that Iran needs nuclear facilities to produce energy? Do they believe [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad?”