Olmert's government has made made it clear it is not convinced by NIE report [AFP]

Since the publication of the NIE findings on Iran's nuclear programme, US officials and generals have been assuring Israel that Iran remains a strategic threat.

Instead of being relieved, not to say trigger happy, by the overarching consensus of the US intelligence community that discounts Iranian nuclear danger, Israel is bombed out.

The government of Ehud Olmert, Israeli's prime minister, made it clear it is not convinced by the conclusions of the National Intelligence Estimate report and that it will prove them wrong through evidence of its own.

Awaiting Israel's revelations, its neoconservative and evangelical allies have expressed their doubts about the honesty and intentions of the report's authors and accused them of politicising the intelligence to fit their political agenda.

Some referred to them as state department moles in the intelligence community.

It is not the absence of a "smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud" that's upsetting those "bomb first, verify later" ideologues. Rather it's how the new findings pulled the rugs from under their war plans.

You can be sure Israel and its US lobbyists will continue to fight nail and tooth as they are pulled away from the brink and in line with America's strategy in the Middle East.

Considering military options are hardly plausible after the NIE report, they will adapt to the new US strategy. But they are not going to do so without a fight.

Doubting the doubters

It's hardly smart for Israel and its US spokespersons to doubt the intentions and professionalism of all 16 braches of the US intelligence, especially when they dare question conventional wisdom.

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The CIA and its sister agencies are in the business of probing foreign disinformation and doubting their adversaries' pronounced policies.  The only sure thing about national intelligence estimates is that it's not entirely sure.

So when intelligence agencies go out on a limb to make daring and almost categorical statements that could eventually be verified or vilified, you can be sure they are sure.

It would have been convenient for the analysts to caution against Iranian nuclear danger than declaring with high confidence that Iran has halted its nuclear programme back in 2003 and had no plans to renew it.

By pre-empting pre-emptive strike against Iran, the intelligence community is making sure the Iraq debacle is not repeated on the basis of Israeli type hype and disinformation.

Doubting the doubters' doubters

It's no secret Israel has an agenda and lobbies Washington to adopt it as its own. Nor is it news that Israel's intelligence sharing with its US ally is, at best, selective and driven by its own, not US, national interests.

Hyping the intelligence about an Iraq nuclear threat prior to the invasion is only a recent example of Israel's disinformation. Iran is another. Syria is a third and so on and so forth.

Israel collects and analyses intelligence through the prisms of a neighbouring garrison state, the US benefits from the great and diverse resources of its empire.

Strategic threat, Iranian or any other, is a combination of capacity and intention. It follows that the war option against Iran that has neither the capacity nor the intention to develop nuclear weapons is a war crime in the making.

So if the NIE opens a window of opportunity to deal with the outstanding issues with Iran without the pressure of time, why rush to sanctions and force?

Because Israel's scepticism goes beyond the conclusions of the NIE report, which it probably knew all along. Its outcry pre-empts potential policy change by putting the breaks on easing the pressures and sanctions against Tehran.

Scepticism beyond intelligence

Israel's political and military establishments reckon relaxation of Western pressure against Iran, especially abandoning the threat of military action in favour of diplomatic pressure, is simply naive.

They worry not only about the consensus of the 16 intelligence agencies, but mostly about the emerging consensus among leading figures and branches of US government against another war.

Full transcript

NIE report: Iran Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities

Israel reckons a strategic change is in the offing and worry that the new intelligence paves the way towards US policy revision that aims to change Tehran's policies not its regime, through carrots not sticks, using its Arab and Muslim allies, not Israel.

Hawks like Robert Gates, US secretary of defence, and his top brass, admirals Mullen and Fallon, chief of staff and head of the general command, respectively, as well as the hardliners at the helm of US intelligence, Mike McConnell (NIE) and (CIA) General Hayden, are anything but soft on Iran.

Like the political leadership in the state department, including Secretary Rice and her deputy Negroponte, as well as the leadership of congress, Pelosi and Reid do not support war or military strikes that would lead to war with Iran.

In light of what they see as "encouraging" signs from the battle field, they would like to stop the bleeding in Iraq and Afghanistan instead of embarking on another bloody and protracted Gulf war.

Eventually, they reckon the US agenda is better served by transforming a costly military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan to cheaper long-term domination.

Washington is hopeful Iran will continue to be "helpful" by stopping arms smuggling and restraining its anti occupation allies. The December 18th meeting between US and Iranian officials over Iraq is expected to lead to more co-ordination.

That's not to say Washington no longer sees Iran as a regional threat. Since the NIE findings, the Bush administration would not shut up about Iran's threat to regional stability.

It spearheaded a Nato call for a third round of sanctions against Iran despite the NIE findings and even though the UN Security Council is not about to punish Iran after it presumably halted a nuclear weapon programme over the last four years.

The urgency has dissipated when the threat was downgraded from imminent to potential.

Washington conservatives see many potential threats around the world from North Korea to Venezuela but do not advocate bombing them.

This is a major blow to Israel and its hyper neoconservative pundits who favour using force against Iran. For them, President Bush's all-options-are-on-the-table policy alludes to threat of force, not the long forsaken diplomacy.

Beyond Iran

Such policy revision is particularly worrisome for the Olmert government and its US pundits because it takes aim at the greater Middle East.

Offsetting the war rhetoric by hyping diplomatic rhetoric after Annapolis puts pressure on Israel to behave less aggressively towards the Palestinians by, for example, stopping construction around occupied East Jerusalem.

The invitation extended to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, to speak at the Gulf summit in Doha in the beginning of December has lit red lights in Tel Aviv, which reckons overtures towards Tehran undermine sanctions against it.

Israel worries such an environment is conducive to US diplomatic pressure to de-occupy Palestinian lands while ignoring its strategic concerns about regional threats.

The louder Israel's indignation regarding the new intelligence revelations, the less Secretary Rice and President Bush will be able, if willing, to put pressure on Israel in the coming weeks.

Source: Al Jazeera