Tuesday, February 5, 2008

'Has Iran won?'

That's a scary question being asked by the cover of this week's Economist: "Has Iran won?"

Won what? you might ask, that is, if the cover didn't have a big radioactive Acme bomb in the place of the "o" in "won."
WHO would have thought that a friendless theocracy with a Holocaust-denying president, which hangs teenagers in public and stones women to death, could run diplomatic circles around America and its European allies? But Iran is doing just that. And it is doing so largely because of an extraordinary own goal by America's spies, the team behind the duff intelligence that brought you the Iraq war.

It doesn't take a fevered brain to assume that if Iran's ayatollahs get their hands on the bomb, the world could be in for some nasty surprises. Iran's claim that its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful is widely disbelieved. That is why Russia and China joined America, Britain, France and Germany at the UN Security Council to try to stop Iran enriching uranium. Until two months ago they seemed ready to support a third and tougher sanctions resolution against Iran. But then America's spies spoke out, and since then five painstaking years of diplomacy have abruptly unravelled (see article).

The intelligence debacle over Iraq has made spies anxious about how their findings are used. That may be why they and the White House felt it right to admit, in a National Intelligence Estimate in December, that they now think Iran halted clandestine work on nuclear warheads five years ago. As it happens, this belief is not yet shared by Israel or some of America's European allies, who see the same data. But no matter: the headline was enough to pull the rug from under the diplomacy. In Berlin last month, the Russians and Chinese made it clear that if there is a third resolution, it will be a mild slap on the wrist, not another turn of the economic screw.
The important, often over-looked, element of the NIE was not that Iran had halted its nuclear-weapons program but that it ever had one to begin with. The report also did not say Iran had stopped its nuclear-enrichment program. That effort, which Iran's dictator purports to be a peaceful endeavor for alternative energy, is alive and well.

My colleague, Karmel Melamed, has some disturbing photos on his blog of gay teens being hanged and women being stoned. This is justice?

Seymour Hersh, who has a new article about the Israeli attack on Syria, wrote a number of stories in the past two years that looked at the Bush administration's plans to bomb Iran, but in October reported that the administration had shifted targets there.

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