The problems of limited intelligence

The failure to find WMDs in Iraq confirmed that something was very wrong with not only U.S. strategic intelligence but everyone else’s too. Many saw it as proof that pre-emptive war was flawed. But the argument cuts the other way too: If we knew so little about Iraq, then there might be other countries, or organizations, ...

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The failure to find WMDs in Iraq confirmed that something was very wrong with not only U.S. strategic intelligence but everyone else's too. Many saw it as proof that pre-emptive war was flawed. But the argument cuts the other way too: If we knew so little about Iraq, then there might be other countries, or organizations, that have capabilities that we don't know about. 

It turns out that Hezbollah is one of those groups. As O'Hara flagged in the indispensable Morning Brief, the New York Times today reports that both Israel and the United States have been taken aback by the kinds of weapons that Hezbollah fighters have been launching (like the C802 missile pictured here). These weapons seem to have come from Iran. Worryingly, this suggests that neither the U.S. nor Israel has the foggiest idea about what the Iranians are up to. So, we have to accept that Iran might be much further on with its nuclear program than is currently thought. (Equally, they could be further behind.)

Now, considering that the Iranian president wants to wipe Israel off the map, the Israelis will understandably err on the side of caution. This means that once this current conflict is over (and the betting for that is Sunday when Condi will probably start talks), the Israelis are likely to start reevaluating their timetable for when Iran will produce its first bomb. At the moment, the Israelis believe that Iran's first nuke will come off the production line in 2008 at the earliest. If Israel decides that the events of the past few days suggest that it might be even earlier, we'll be even closer to the nightmare scenario of Israel feeling obliged to strike Iranian nuclear facilities while there are still significant numbers of coalition troops in Iraq.

The failure to find WMDs in Iraq confirmed that something was very wrong with not only U.S. strategic intelligence but everyone else’s too. Many saw it as proof that pre-emptive war was flawed. But the argument cuts the other way too: If we knew so little about Iraq, then there might be other countries, or organizations, that have capabilities that we don’t know about. 

It turns out that Hezbollah is one of those groups. As O’Hara flagged in the indispensable Morning Brief, the New York Times today reports that both Israel and the United States have been taken aback by the kinds of weapons that Hezbollah fighters have been launching (like the C802 missile pictured here). These weapons seem to have come from Iran. Worryingly, this suggests that neither the U.S. nor Israel has the foggiest idea about what the Iranians are up to. So, we have to accept that Iran might be much further on with its nuclear program than is currently thought. (Equally, they could be further behind.)

Now, considering that the Iranian president wants to wipe Israel off the map, the Israelis will understandably err on the side of caution. This means that once this current conflict is over (and the betting for that is Sunday when Condi will probably start talks), the Israelis are likely to start reevaluating their timetable for when Iran will produce its first bomb. At the moment, the Israelis believe that Iran’s first nuke will come off the production line in 2008 at the earliest. If Israel decides that the events of the past few days suggest that it might be even earlier, we’ll be even closer to the nightmare scenario of Israel feeling obliged to strike Iranian nuclear facilities while there are still significant numbers of coalition troops in Iraq.

James Forsyth is assistant editor at Foreign Policy.

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