THE SPINE SEPTEMBER 27, 2009
Qom is not a chance locale for a nuclear enrichment plant. It is one of Shi'a Islam's sacred cities, a destination of pilgrimage, a center of scholarship (whatever scholarship there is in a faith closed off to the world), the site of one of the holiest shrines of the faith. Israel would not dare attack it, and America would not even think of such an assault.
In any case, it was kept secret for several years. Yes, the Iranians had kept it secret for several years. Apparently, the United States and some of its allies had known about it and also kept it secret. If you want a clear, if concise grasp of what this "it" is read one of those New York Times articles for which I still am harnessed to the Times: "Cryptic Note from Tehran Ignites Days of Urgent Diplomacy" by Helene Cooper and Mark Mazzetti.
No one has confessed how long ago this information came into the hands of western intelligence. But it was not yesterday ... or the day before. "A senior official said that intelligence was regularly shared among American, British and French spy agencies, and that Israeli officials were told about the complex years ago." So the Bush administration did not reveal the secret. And the Obama administration hasn't either. So much for the much promised "transparency."
Which, of course, means that the whole public discussion was conducted under the shadow of half-truth and misleading assurances. We had little reason to expect the truth from the Bushies. But we were promised a real change by the successors. In the end the truth came out because Iran sent an enigmatic little missive to the International Atomic Energy Agency admitting it had been constructing another nuclear facility.
Were the put-downs by U.S. intelligence of Israel's urgency about Iran's atomic accomplishments not distortions? I believe so. The only top security person who was honest in public was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen. I believe that Israel was "canny" but didn't make public all that it knew simply out of deference, first, to President Bush, latterly to President Obama.
The very honest and accurate scholar of nuclear matters, Anthony H. Cordesman has, almost by serendipity, an article—a long essay, actually—in Saturday's Wall Street Journal titled "The Iran Attack Plan." As a consequence of the new revelations, Cordesman states that "Israel must consider not just whether to proceed with a strike against Iran—but how."
So what is going to happen with Washington's highly vaunted engagement with Tehran? How much kicking around will the president take?