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Israel says ... Iran isn't building a nuclear weapon

If Israeli media reports are correct, Israel shares the US and European views of Iran: That it isn't seeking a nuclear weapon at the moment.

By Staff writer / January 19, 2012

In this 2008 file photo provided by the Iranian President's Office, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, center, visits the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility some 200 miles south of the capital, Tehran.

Iranian President's Office/AP/File

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The war drums on Iran continue to beat onward. Hawkish editorials and opinion pieces adopt the style and content of articles from a decade ago, in which a Middle Eastern country run by a "madman" was on the brink of obtaining weapons of mass destruction – weapons that would almost certainly be used to threaten the security of the world.

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The older articles were about Iraq and the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein almost certainly had (except he didn't). The current crop are about Iran. Front and center is an op-ed by Mark Helprin in the Wall Street Journal yesterday titled "The mortal threat from Iran." He writes that the "primitive religious fanatics" who rule Iran don't think rationally about their own nation's interests, and that, absent a US attack soon, "Iran will get nuclear weapons, which in its eyes are an existential necessity."

Mr. Helprin, a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute in California, even echoes Condoleezza Rice's January 2003 warning that the smoking gun of an Iraqi nuclear program could be a "mushroom cloud." He writes: "We cannot dismiss the possibility of Iranian nuclear charges of 500 pounds or less ending up in Manhattan or on Pennsylvania Avenue."

To be sure, Iraq and Iran are not the same; Iran is indeed enriching uranium, a key component of a nuclear weapon. But the fear-mongering sounds the same. What today's arguments about Iran ignore, however – much as the arguments in favor of the Iraq war ignored – was the position of the US intelligence community that Iran is not currently building a nuclear weapon. The US position appears to be that Iran is seeking the ability to build a weapon, without actually taking that final step.

Two weekends ago, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said: "Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No. But we know that they're trying to develop a nuclear capability and that's what concerns us and our red line to Iran is: Do not develop a nuclear weapon."

And it's not just the US assessment. Israel's liberal newspaper Haaretz reported yesterday that "Iran has not yet decided whether to make a nuclear bomb, according to the intelligence assessment Israeli officials will present later this week to [visiting] Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff." Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak poured cold water on speculation that his country is planning a unilateral attack against Iran. "This entire thing is very far off. I don’t want to provide estimates [but] it’s certainly not urgent," he said.

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