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Israel steps up warnings to Bush on Iran

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not be the only issue on his visit to Israel.

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"I want to be strong: Iran is building their nuclear military capability," Mr. Amidror told the small group at the briefing, including a handful of Western reporters, at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a conservative think thank in Israel. "We think that the report of the American intelligence community is a huge mistake, based on I don't know what."

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Mr. Regev struck a different tone, explaining that Israel and the US were essentially on the "same page," but that Israel is concerned that the report's true findings have been misunderstood by the media.

"There's a difference between the headlines and the summary of the report," Regev says. "The NIE says that there was an Iranian weaponization program until 2003 and since then, there's no evidence. But is it not possible that it's gone underground?"

That appears to be the conclusion of most people in the Israeli intelligence community.

Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi-Farkash, Israeli's head of military intelligence from 2001 to 2006, has been one of those who is outspoken about his disappointment with the NIE report. He says that Iran's continued uranium enrichment, coupled with its well-known development of long-range missiles, makes it clear that Iran is still in full pursuit of a nuclear weapon.

Mr. Zeevi-Farkash said that in late 2002 and early 2003 Israel became aware of Iran's nuclear program. In turn, he says Iran decided to seek a way to hide the development of their nuclear weapons program.

Zeevi-Farkash revealed that at the time, he and the head of Mossad, Israel's covert intelligence agency, went to meet with several European leaders, upon the request of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, to convince them of the threat.

The response, Zeevi-Farkash said, was that if there was such a threat, combating it would be a team effort. "If this will happen and Iran will achieve nuclear military capacity," he was told by European leaders, then the US and Israel will solve the problem," he said at the briefing.

"The NIE has sent a signal to Tehran that the danger of external sanctions has ended," Zeevi-Farkash says. "And the NIE has weakened Turkey and the moderate Sunni countries in the region [who have been working] to build a nuclear coalition against Tehran. The NIE report opens Iran to pursuing its nuclear ambitions without any obstacles."

Zeevi-Farkash has been highly critical of the NIE report since its release, going so far as to suggest that it may have been spun by Bush opponents. The former military intelligence chief told The Jerusalem Post last month the NIE report was "political" and aimed at depriving Bush of any justification for military intervention.

Retired Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, an influential ex-senior intelligence officer in the Israeli Defense Forces, has also been deeply critical of the report. "There are important repercussions to the very poor work the American intelligence has done," he said. Until recently, Mr. Kuperwasser served as the head of the Research and Assessment Division of Israeli Military Intelligence.

"The first thing in intelligence is to ask the right questions," Kuperwasser said. "This is a country that has had a 15-year-program of weaponization. One should ask how far had they gone in 15 years ... [and] even if they had stopped it temporarily, who cares?"

"We know that in 2005 they resumed some of the things they stopped," he added. "The part of the program to develop the fissile material is going on."

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