Dec 4, 2007

Breaking News: President Bush to Visit Israel in January

By Joel Rosenberg

(Washington, D.C., December 4, 2007) -- On January 9, 2008, President Bush will make his first official visit to Israel as commander-in-chief and leader of the free world.

This is an excellent development. As readers of Flash Traffic know, I have been saying for the last 18 months -- including just last week -- that President Bush should make this historic visit to Jerusalem to show solidarity with the people of Israel. He has traveled repeatedly to Iraq and Afghanistan, and visited Jordan last summer. But until now, the only time Mr. Bush has visited the Jewish State was in 1998 as Governor of Texas.

The President should be applauded for this bold move. Let us also pray for the peace of Jerusalem, for safety for the President and his team, and for a new era of quiet and calmness in the epicenter.

In other key news from the epicenter, "a new assessment by American intelligence agencies made public Monday concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains on hold, contradicting an assessment two years ago that Tehran was working inexorably toward building a bomb," reports the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune.

"The assessment, a National Intelligence Estimate that represents the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies, states that Tehran is most likely keeping its options open with respect to building a weapon, but that intelligence agencies 'do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.' Iran is continuing to produce enriched uranium, the report says, a program that the Tehran government has said is designed for civilian purposes. The new estimate says that the enrichment program could still provide Iran with enough raw material to produce a nuclear weapon sometime by the middle of next decade, a timetable essentially unchanged from previous estimates. But the new estimate declares with 'high confidence' that a military-run Iranian program intended to transform that raw material into a nuclear weapon has been shut down since 2003, and also says with high confidence that the halt 'was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure."

Translation: The U.S. is now far less likely to launch a series of preemptive military strikes against actual and suspected Iranian nuclear research facilities before the end of this President's term in office and the current Congressional leadership would be far less likely to support such a strike if one were proposed or made (not that they would have been that supportive anyway).

Question: Is this intelligence assessment correct? Maybe. And let's hope so. It would be wonderful if Iran is not the immediate nuclear threat that U.S. intelligence agencies have been saying they were right up to this week.

But there is always the possibility that the U.S. assessment is wrong. The accuracy of some of our intelligence reports in the Middle East have certainly been in question in recent years. And we must always remember May 1998, when India and Pakistan conducted multiple nuclear weapons tests, stunning U.S. and Western intelligence agencies who had absolutely no idea either country so close to getting the Bomb. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), then the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called this a "colossal failure" of the U.S. intelligence community. God forbid we should have a similar such failure with regards to Iran.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told the Jerusalem Post that U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates showed him the NIE in Annapolis last week but the Israeli conclusion remains that Iran is actively trying to build nuclear weapons. "I am familiar with the American intelligence assessment," Barak said....Nevertheless, I say again that Iran is today a central threat on the world and the State of Israel....There is a lot that can be done with regard to the Iranian nuclear program but it is important to mention that words do not stop missiles, Action is needed in the form of sanctions, in the diplomatic sphere and in other spheres as well." In November, Barak warned military strikes might be needed in the next 24 months. "We cannot take any option off the table and we need to study operational aspects. This is not just for the coming months but also for the coming two years."