Monday, February 27, 2012

Tempest in a Wikipot: Did Israel destroy Iran's nuclear program?

From The Times of Israel, also reported elsewhere:

Israeli agents collaborating with Kurdish operatives destroyed Iran’s nuclear infrastructure last year, according to an unnamed Israeli intelligence source cited in communiques between intelligence analysts uncovered by Wikileaks on Monday.
The leaked emails also contain assessments that Europeans want a military strike against Tehran to divert attention from the euro crisis and that Henry Kissinger believes a panicking Israel will indeed attack the Islamic regime.
On November 7, 2011, a Stratfor analyst reported on a conversation he had with an Israeli intelligence agent. The analyst, Benjamin Preisler, said that the source — whose reliability the company was “still testing” — was asked what he thought of reports that Israel was planning a military strike on Iran.

“I think this is a diversion,” the source said, according to Preisler’s email. “The Israelis already destroyed all the Iranian nuclear infrastructure on the ground weeks ago. The current ‘let’s bomb Iran’ campaign was ordered by the EU leaders to divert the public attention from their at home financial problems.”

Replying to Preisler’s email, several senior analysts at Stratfor expressed doubt about that scenario.

“Would anyone actually accept that this could let the Europeans forget about the Euro crisis, something they have been experiencing every day for over a year?!” wrote Sydney-based Chris Farnham.

Two days later, Farnham sent another email, saying that the Israeli agent’s information “seems like quite a stretch however it has been put out there for some reason or another and is now playing in to what we are seeing.”

According to Farnham, the Israeli agent was asked to clarify what he meant when he said that Israel destroyed the Iranian nuclear infrastructure.

The agent answered: “Israeli commandos in collaboration with Kurd forces destroyed few underground facilities mainly used for the Iranian defense and nuclear research projects.”

Farnham further writes that if a direct military confrontation erupts between Jerusalem and Tehran, an Israeli attack on Iran would last “only 48 hours but will be so destructive that Iran will be unable to retaliate or recover and the government will fall. It is hard to believe that Hamas or Hezbollah will try to get involved in this conflict.”

He added, “Even if the Israelis have the capabilities and are ready to attack by air, sea and land, there is no need to attack the nuclear program at this point after the commandos destroyed a significant part of it.”
This is a non-story.

When you actually look at the email threads that have been leaked, you see that this is just a bunch of analysts, of varying skill levels, bouncing scenarios and ideas off each other. And to be honest, they don't sound all that well-informed.

In this case, one person heard what can only be described as an unsubstantiated rumor from an untested Israeli source. The others are skeptical but they consider what it might mean if it is true.

To give an informal email thread like this credence is exactly as stupid as to trust a blogger who claims to have inside information from his own unnamed and unknown Israeli security source.

Stratfor does some good analysis, but there is a reason why it is good - because their experts sift through the garbage to find things that are hidden. But whether you are a private intelligence enterprise, a reporter or a blogger, before you publicize things you build a case from multiple sources. A scenario like this one requires some corroboration. And none was given, which is why the story was ever not released by Stratfor.

Put it this way: Imagine how much more money Stratfor could have made had this panned out and they were the first to publicize it! They would have clients willing to pay millions for such great insider information.

But Stratfor apparently looked at this single factoid, tossed it around, and properly dropped it as not reliable. Which is something that the news media should make clear as well.

This entire episode is, to put it mildly, stupid. An unsourced, unverified claim is no more credible when it is leaked from an email chain from Stratfor or when it is reported on Facebook. It should be treated with an equal amount of skepticism.