I wonder how long the Times has been sitting on this one.

There’s a lot to digest — too much for a thoughtful post tonight, I think — but let me gently suggest that they buried the lede. Quote:

The “key judgments” of the National Intelligence Estimate, which were publicly released [in December 2007], emphasized the suspension of the weapons work.

The public version made only glancing reference to evidence described at great length in the 140-page classified version of the assessment: the suspicion that Iran had 10 or 15 other nuclear-related facilities, never opened to international inspectors, where enrichment activity, weapons work or the manufacturing of centrifuges might be taking place.

The Israelis responded angrily and rebutted the American report, providing American intelligence officials and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with evidence that they said indicated that the Iranians were still working on a weapon.

Israel wasn’t our only ally who knew the NIE was garbage, first and foremost because enrichment, not weaponization, is the hard part in building a nuke and Iran’s been merrily improving its enrichment capabilities for years. Like I said when the report first came out, “The cause for celebration, especially on the left, isn’t that Iran is no longer a threat, it’s that it’s a threat that Bush has no grounds for confronting militarily and is unlikely to be able to pressure diplomatically. It’s the next president’s problem now.” And so it is.

The Times omitted details about the covert ops for obvious reasons, but evidently they involve sabotaging Tehran’s nuclear infrastructure. Old-school HA readers may remember these posts about the atomic black market; such is the sophistication needed for enrichment that even a nation as technologically advanced as Iran is forced to buy some necessary parts instead of producing them itself. Presumably the CIA’s interrupted the supply chain. But it may not do any good:

While declining to be specific, one American official dismissed the latest covert operations against Iran as “science experiments.” One senior intelligence official argued that as Mr. Bush prepared to leave office, the Iranians were already so close to achieving a weapons capacity that they were unlikely to be stopped…

One official … said, “It was not until the last year that they got really imaginative about what one could do to screw up the system.”

Then, he cautioned, “none of these are game-changers,” meaning that the efforts would not necessarily cripple the Iranian program. Others in the administration strongly disagree.

I can’t believe Israel would sit idly by while Iran builds a bomb if they thought the sabotage has no chance of succeeding. On the other hand, and as the story makes clear, their own assessments suggest that a bombing run would set Iran’s program back by only two or three years, or of course might not work at all — the chance of which, apparently, convinced Bush an attack wasn’t worth the risk. Exit question: Why’d the Times publish this now? My gut reaction after reading it was that they’ve made life much harder for The One, but upon reflection they might have simplified things for him considerably. Iran will have a field day with propaganda about this vis-a-vis the Great Satan trying to wreck its glorious national nuclear program; if Obama’s serious about “repairing our image abroad,” he has no choice now but to repudiate Bush’s policy and meet with them.