Monthly Archives: March 2012

Giuliani–MeK is ‘only hope’ of stopping Iranian nuclear program

Press TV

The former mayor of New York says the terrorist group of Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO) is the United States’ only hope to stop Iran’s nuclear energy program through a military attack.

Speaking at a conference in Paris, Rudolph Giuliani noted that the United States should use the MKO to militarily attack Iran’s nuclear program,  International Business Times reported.

The conference was also attended by former US Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, former US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton and former Rhode Island Representative Patrick Kennedy.

“I have a feeling that the only thing that will stop [Iran] and the only thing that will stop [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad is if they see strength, if they see power, if they see determination, if they see an America that is willing to support the people that want to overthrow the regime of Iran,” he added.

Giuliani’s remarks come despite the fact that MKO, along with 49 other groups including al-Qaeda, is on the US State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations which considers providing “material support or resources” for such groups or accepting donations from them as illegal.

Despite that law, three top-ranking former US officials are currently being investigated by the Treasury Department for accepting speaking fees from the MKO.

Former Pennsylvania Gov., Philadelphia mayor, and Democratic National Chairman Ed Rendell was the first to face federal scrutiny for accepting speaking fees from the MKO. Earlier this month ex-FBI Director Louis Freeh and a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired Gen. Hugh Shelton, were also subpoenaed.

In the past few years, dozens of other US politicians have been paid by the MKO, including former Vermont Gov. and Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Bush’s White House Chief of Staff Andy Card and even former Rep. Lee Hamilton, who was also co-chairman of the 9/11 Commission.

Giuliani, who charges as much as USD 100,000 per speaking engagement, was asked to appear at the Paris conference by the so-called French Committee for a Democratic Iran. The US Treasury Department charges that these types of Iranian organizations are clandestinely funneling money from the MKO into speakers’ pockets.

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Israel Shields Public from Risks of War with Iran

The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been   telling Israelis that Israel can attack Iran with minimal   civilian Israeli casualties as a result of retaliation, and   that reassuring message appears to have headed off any   widespread Israeli fear of war with Iran and other   adversaries.

But the message that Iran is too weak to threaten an effective   counterattack is contradicted by one of Israel’s leading experts on   Iranian missiles and the head of its missile defense program for   nearly a decade, who says Iranian missiles are capable of doing   significant damage to Israeli targets. 

The Israeli population has shown little serious anxiety about the   possibility of war with Iran, in large part because they have not   been told that it involves a risk of Iranian missiles destroying   Israeli neighborhoods and key economic and administrative targets.

“People are not losing sleep over this,” Yossi Alpher, a consultant   and writer on strategic issues and former director of the Jaffee   Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, told IPS in an   interview. “This is not a preoccupation of the public the way the   suicide bombers were a decade ago.”

Alpher says one reason for the widespread lack of urgency about a   possible war with Iran is that the scenarios involving such a war are   “so nebulous in the eyes of the public that it’s difficult for them   to focus on it.”

Aluf Benn, the editor in chief of Ha’aretz, told IPS in an interview,   “There is no war mentality,” although he added, “that could change   overnight.” One reason for the relative public calm about the issue,   he suggested, is the official view that Iran’s ability to retaliate   is “very limited.”

Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in Bloomberg Mar. 20 that “Some Israel   officials believe Iran’s leaders might choose to play down the insult   of a raid and launch a handful of rockets at Tel Aviv as an angry   gesture rather than declare all-out war.”

But Uzi Rubin, who was in charge of Israel’s missile defence from   1991 to 1999 and presided over the development of the Arrow anti-  missile system, has a much more sombre view of Iran’s capabilities.

The “bad news” for Israel, Rubin told IPS in an interview, is that   the primary factor affecting Iran’s capability to retaliate is the   rapidly declining cost of increased precision in ballistic missiles.   Within a very short time, Iran has already improved the accuracy of   its missiles from a few kilometers from the target to just a few   meters, according to Rubin.

That improvement would give Iran the ability to hit key Israeli   economic infrastructure and administrative targets, he said. “I’m   asking my military friends how they feel about waging war without   electricity,” said Rubin.

The consequences of Iranian missile strikes on administrative targets   could be even more serious, Rubin believes. “If the civilian   government collapses,” he said, “the military will find it difficult   to wage a war.”

Rubin is even worried that, if the accuracy of Iranian missiles   improves further, which he believes is “bound to happen,” Iran will   be able to carry out pinpoint attacks on Israel’s air bases, which   are concentrated in just a few places.

Some Israeli analysts have suggested that Israel could hit Iranian   missiles in a preemptive strike, but Rubin said Israel can no longer   count on being able to hit Iranian missiles before they are launched.

Iran’s longer-range missiles have always been displayed on mobile   transporter erector launchers (TELs), as Rubin pointed out in an   article in Arms Control Today earlier this year. “The message was   clear,” Rubin wrote. “Iran’s missile force is fully mobile, hence,   not pre-emptable.”

Rubin, who has argued for more resources to be devoted to the Arrow   anti-missile system, acknowledged that it can only limit the number   of missiles that get through. In an e-mail to IPS, he cited the Arrow   system’s record of more than 80 percent success in various tests over   the years, but also noted that such a record “does not assure an   identical success rate in real combat.”

The United States and Israel began in 2009 developing a new version   of the Arrow missile defense system called “Reshef” – “Flash” – or   “Arrow 3,” aimed at intercepting Iranian missiles above the   atmosphere and farther away from Israeli territory than the earlier   version of the Arrow. The new anti-missile system can alter the   trajectory of the defensive missile and distinguish decoys from real   missile reentry vehicles.

Until last November, the Arrow 3 system was not expected to become   operational until 2015. And that plan was regarded by U.S. Missile   Defense Agency (MDA) as probably too ambitious, because such a system   would normally take a decade from conception to deployment.

But Xinhua news agency reported in November that Israeli Air Force   officials said they expected Arrow 3 to become operational by mid-2013, cutting even that abbreviated timeline for development of the   system in half.

Nevertheless, the ability of the Arrow 3 system to shoot down an   incoming missile still has not been announced, although an Israeli   official said Mar. 1 that such a test would take place after the   meeting between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

In December 2008, Western intelligence sources were reported by   Israel’s Ynet News as saying the improved version of the Shahab 3   missile had gone into production earlier that year and that Iran was   believed to be able to produce 75 of the improved missiles annually.

Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, then IDF chief of staff, told a visiting   Congressional delegation in November 2009 that Iran already had 300   missiles capable of hitting Israeli targets, according to a U.S.   State Department cable released by WikiLeaks.

Those reports suggest that Iran now has roughly 450 missiles that can   reach Israel, half of which are improved models with much greater   precision. Even if only one-fifth of those missiles get through   Israel’s missile defenses, Israeli cities could be hit by at least   100, most of which are able to hit targets with relative accuracy.

The Netanyahu government has sought to minimise the threat of Iranian   retaliation for an Israeli strike against Iran in part by likening   war with Iran to those fought against Hezbollah and Palestinian   rockets in recent years, which have resulted in relatively few   Israeli civilian casualties.

That was the message that Israeli military officials conveyed to the   Israeli news media after an escalation of violence between the IDF   and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza earlier this month.

Columnist Zvi Barel of Haaretz speculated on Mar. 11 that the purpose   of the escalation, provoked by the IDF assassination of Zuhair al-  Qaisi, the secretary general of the Popular Resistance Committee in   Gaza, was to show the Israeli public that Israeli missile defense   system could protect the population against rockets that the IDF   linked to Iran.

Barel went even further. “After Iron Dome demonstrated its 95 percent   effectiveness,” he wrote, “there is no better proof to Israel’s   citizens that they will not suffer serious damage following an   assault on Iran.”

The success of the Iron Dome against short-range rockets from Gaza is   irrelevant, however, to what could be expected from a relatively   untested Arrow system against Iranian ballistic missiles aimed at   Israeli targets.

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Israelis move into contested West Bank home

AFP

Israeli settlers have moved into a contested home in a building in the Palestinian West Bank city of Hebron, residents and Israeli security forces said on Thursday.

“At 1:30 am we heard noises and it was the settlers,” Montasser Abu Rajab, who lives on the first floor of the building in Hebron’s Old City, told AFP.

“They broke the main door and brought their furniture in, accompanied by the army, who locked us in our house,” he said.

The Israeli army confirmed the incident, with a spokeswoman telling AFP that “Jewish settlers have moved into a house in the Old City of Hebron, arguing that the title to the property is contested.”

“The area has been declared a closed military zone, and soldiers have been put in place to keep the calm,” she said.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said “police have been dispatched to the scene to verify the legal status of the house and the property titles that are apparently the subject of litigation.”

Palestinian sources in Hebron said the property belonged to the Abu Rajab family, some of whom live on the first floor of the building.

They said it was possible that a member of the family had sold the second floor of the house, but it was unclear to whom, with relatives saying it was to another Palestinian family.

But settlers told Israeli media they had titles to the property, located near the contested religious site known as the Cave of the Patriarchs to Jews and the Ibrahimi Mosque to Muslims.

“This is very exciting. It’s taken us years but we have finally been able to buy a house near the Cave of the Patriarchs,” Shlomo Levinger told the Ynet news website.

Speaking to Israeli public radio, rightwing Israeli lawmaker Michael Ben Ari, of the National Union party, said it was “time to recover all the Jewish homes in Hebron stolen by the enemy.”

Hebron is the biggest Palestinian city in the West Bank, home to some 170,000 Palestinian residents, but also a core of around 600 Israeli settlers who live in the heart of the city protected by a large Israeli military presence.

The Old City has become a flashpoint for confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians.

In 1994, a settler from the nearby Kiryat Arba settlement gunned down 29 Palestinians as they prayed at the contested Ibrahimi Mosque/Cave of the Patriarchs site.

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Israel reprimands Austria, Belgium over vote on UN human rights council

Haaretz

Austria and Belgium’s ambassadors were reprimanded Monday by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for being the only two European Union members to support the establishment of a UN investigative committee on West Bank settlements.

Both ambassadors arrived separately for a meeting with Deputy Director General for Europe Rafi Shotz, where they were presented with an official governmental complaint over their countries’ respective votes in the UN Human Rights Council.

Shotz told the ambassadors that Israel is disappointed in their countries handling of the situation, in light of the fact that the other EU member states in the council – Italy, Spain, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Romania – refrained from voting, explaining that there are already mechanisms in place for overseeing such issues, and the establishment of another investigative body would be redundant.

“When you voted, you knew the outcome, as well of how one-sided the decision would be,” Shotz told the ambassadors. “You assisted in the politicization of the Human Rights Council and a decision that will only worsen the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Meanwhile, Israel’s ambassadors in Oslo and Bern was instructed to pass along as similar complaint to the Norwegian and Swiss foreign ministries, respectively, after they too voted to establish an investigative committee on the issue of the settlements.

The conversations with the ambassadors in Jerusalem came several hours after the Foreign Ministry decided to sever ties with the UN Human Rights Council, as well as with its chief commissioner Navi Pillay.

Rotating President of the Human Rights Council Laura Dupuy Lasserre, who also serves as Uruguay’s ambassador to the UN, called the decision “very unfortunate,” and added that she has yet to receive an official message from the Israeli ambassador.

“I have no doubt that it is in Israel’s interest to cooperate with council’s investigative committee so that it can express its position,” Dupuy Lasserre said.

 

Lieberman orders to sever ties with HRC

Senior state official says Israel will no longer appear before Human Rights Council, following its decision to probe settlements. HRC says decision ‘regrettable’; Hamas blasts it as ‘Zionist attempt to blackmail’ international institutions

ynet

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has decided “to cut all ties with the UN’s Human Rights forum” following its decision to probe how settlements may be infringing on Palestinians’ rights, a senior state official said Monday.

“We maintained some kind of a relationship with them despite not being members in the council,” he said. “We will no longer appear before the council or even answer their calls. If they want to visit – we shall not assist them.”

Last week, the HRC passed a resolution ordering a first probe into how Israel’s West Bank settlements may be infringing on Palestinians’ rights. The council called on Israel to take steps like seizing weapons in order to prevent settler violence. It is sending a delegation to the territories to check the effect settlements have on the Palestinian people.

The Foreign Ministry said in response that the council was being used as a tool to further unilateral political steps instead of promoting human rights.

The Palestinians, the official added, were adopting a strategy of unilateralism aimed at avoiding an agreement. “They link everything to settlements,” he said. “Attempts to spearhead uncoordinated projects in Area C as well as efforts in the International Court of Justice are meant to impede any political move.”

The official added that the Palestinians’ aim is to achieve UN recognition using unilateral means.

Despite the bold move to sever ties with the UN council, the Foreign Ministry remains concerned about the political stalemate. Minister Lieberman is working on a series of unspecified steps to end the deadlock.

‘Israeli decision won’t stop HRC’

The UN’s Human Rights Council said Israel’s decision was “regrettable.” HRC President Laura Dupuy Lasserre said that the decision was “very unfortunate,” adding that she has yet to receive a formal notification of the matter.

“I have seen various reports in the Israeli media about this, but I have not received any official confirmation,” she said, 

“I have no doubt that it is in the interest of Israel to cooperate with the Human Rights Council on this investigative mission, not least so that it can explain its own policies and actions to the independent commissioners once they are appointed,” she said in a statement.

Asked to comment further, she said recent history showed Israel would not stop the fact-finding mission from gathering information by deciding not to cooperate with it, even if it could not physically gain access to the West Bank or Israel.

“The most recent example of refusal to cooperate is Syria, which did not permit either the Human Rights Council mandated Fact-finding Mission or the Commission of Inquiry to enter the country. On the other hand, in the case of the other two Commissions of Inquiry that took place in 2011, both Libya and Cote d’Ivoire did cooperate, and allowed the Commissioners to visit.”

Meanwhile, Hamas slammed Israel’s decision, calling it a “Zionist attempt to blackmail” international institutions that criticize its policies.   “This is proof of the vulnerability the Zionist regime is facing vis-à-vis human rights and the UN,” Hamas Spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement.

He further lauded the Human Rights Council’s decision to order its probe, saying it will “create a broad international consensus as to the oppression of the Palestinian people and the justice of their cause.”

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Gaza baby dies after respirator runs out of fuel

Associated Press

A Gaza man said Sunday his 5-month-old baby died after the generator powering his respirator ran out of fuel.

The baby, who was born with lymphatic disorder, had only a few months to live, said his father, Abdul-Rahim Helou, 27. But his parents miscalculated how much fuel a new generator needed to remove fluids that accumulated in his respiratory system, he said.

“If we were living in a normal country with electricity, I think his chances of living (longer) would have been better,” Helou said.

Gaza health official Bassem al-Qadri said the baby arrived dead at a Gaza City hospital on Friday night.

The baby’s death highlights the human cost Gaza’s 1.6 million residents are paying for 18-hour-a-day blackouts, triggered by a cutoff of Egyptian fuel.

Shortages have caused days-long lines for fuel at gas stations, a sharp reduction in public transportation and families left shivering in poorly built apartments during a wet and cold winter.

More than a year ago, Hamas decided to power Gaza’s only power plant with smuggled fuel from Egypt, rather than pay for more expensive Israeli fuel, as it had done in the past.

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Shin Bet security service confirms Toulouse gunman spent time in Israel

According to security officials, Mohamed Merah entered Israel after crossing the Allenby Bridge from Jordan in September 2010 where he was investigated by the Shin Bet,

Haaretz

An investigation by Israeli intelligence revealed on Monday that Mohamed Merah, the gunmen responsible for last week’s Toulouse shootings, spent time in Israel and Palestinian territories over a year and a half ago.

According to the Shin Bet, Merah entered Israel after crossing the Allenby Bridge from Jordan in September 2010. He was investigated by the Shin Bet. The investigation did not bring up any suspicious information, and he was allowed to enter the country.

Furthermore, The Shin Bet investigation could not confirm a claim by the French intelligence that Merah was arrested in Israel with a knife.

Merah stayed in Israel for a total of three days, during which it is unknown whether he was involved in any terror-related activity.

Security sources told Haaretz that Merah visited Israel before his stay in Afghanistan or Pakistan, thus there was no information that could indicate whether or not he constituted a security threat.

The revelation comes a day after a French judge placed Merah’s brother under formal investigation. Abdelkader Merah is set tobe moved to a prison and remain there for the duration of an inquiry into suspected complicity in a spate of fatal shootings.

A legal source told Reuters that four anti-terrorist judges would lead an inquiry into gunman Mohamed Merah’s killing of three Jewish children, a rabbi and three soldiers, and investigate his elder brother for complicity.

“He has been placed under formal investigation in line with the prosecutor’s requirements,” the source said.

Mohamed Merah was shot dead by a police sniper on Thursday as he scrambled out of his apartment window, firing a pistol, after special force commandos stormed his home in the southern city of Toulouse to break a more than 30-hour siege.

He earlier told police negotiators he had carried out the three shootings in Toulouse and the surrounding area to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and protest against the French army’s role in Afghanistan. He said he regretted there were not more victims.

Since his death, the focus of the investigation has switched to Abdelkader, 29, who was already known to security services for helping smuggle Jihadist militants into Iraq in 2007. He is suspected of playing a role in providing logistical support to his brother.

Abdelkader had been in detention since dawn on Wednesday as police in Toulouse and then Paris questioned him. Being placed under formal investigation is the next legal step after being held in custody and means that a criminal trial is likely.

 

Israel confirms questioning Toulouse terrorist in 2010

Defense sources confirm Mohammed Merah stopped in Israel en route to Afghanistan in September 2010, aroused suspicion of border officers but eventually allowed to enter country.

Sources in the Defense establishment confirmed on Monday that Toulouse terrorist Mohammed Merah had visited Israel.

According to examinations conducted recently, Merah, who murdered a rabbi and three children in a Jewish school last week, stopped in Israel en route to Afghanistan in September 2010.

Defense sources confirmed that the terrorist entered Israel from Jordan via the Allenby crossing. He was questioned after arousing the suspicion of border officers but was eventually allowed to enter Israel after it was determined he wasn’t involved in terrorist activity.

Merah entered Israel as a tourist with a French passport. The sources had no knowledge of reports that he had been caught with a knife in Jerusalem, as claimed by a French minister last week. Merah left Israel after three days and returned to Jordan.   Meanwhile, French newspaper Le Parisien revealed additional details from the terrorist’s exchange with French police during the siege on his house. He told the officers that a day prior to the raid, he had noticed three suspicious cars parked outside his building. He also claimed he was being followed.

It was also reported that a day after the school shooting, where he shot to death four people, he drove to his hometown and played soccer.

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Eostremonath

Eostremonath Starts 24/3/12

 

Ostara-Eostre Full-Moon on 8/4/12

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Official: Israel, US disagree on Iran timetable

AP

Israel and the U.S. disagree on what would be a realistic timetable for stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, Israel’s defense minister said Thursday, but he stopped short of threatening unilateral Israeli action.

Ehud Barak reiterated concerns that Iran is trying to make its suspected nuclear weapons program immune from attack before taking a decision on assembling atomic bombs, and said Israel “cannot afford” to wait in such a situation.

However, Barak told Israel Radio that the Jewish state could hold off for several more months to allow sanctions and negotiations to work. During this period, it would become clear “if the Iranians intend or don’t intend to stop their nuclear weapons program.”

In the interview, Barak argued that superior U.S. military capabilities and Washington’s position as a world power account for its different stance toward perceived Iranian nuclear threats. The U.S. has urged Israel to give sanctions time to work.

Israel feels directly threatened by a nuclear Iran, Barak stressed.

In a separate interview with German television, Barak said that 2012 is a “highly important” year for a possible strike and speculated that the timeframe for a “surgical intervention” — a precision hit on Iranian targets — is not a matter of weeks, but it is not a matter of years either.

Iran denies it is trying to develop nuclear weapons, and insists its nuclear program is meant for peaceful uses such as generating electricity and producing medical isotopes.

Barak said Israel and the U.S. agree on preventing Iran from building nuclear weapons, but that “the difference between us and the U.S. is the perspective on timetables.”

“America has more abilities than Israel,” Barak said. “You can think of a time when Israel would be very limited in its ability to act.”

Also Thursday, a survey indicated that a majority of Israelis don’t want Israel to strike Iran without U.S. military support, while 23 percent support unilateral Israeli action. The poll among 500 respondents was conducted this week for Israel’s Channel 10 TV by pollster Camil Fuchs. It had an error margin of 4.3 percentage points.

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Russia–Israeli Violation of Lebanese Airspace ‘Unacceptable’

Adnan Mansour and Sergei Lavrov

 

RIA Novosti
The violation of Lebanese airspace by the Israeli Air Force is unacceptable, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday after a meeting with his Lebanese counterpart.

 

Aircraft of the Israeli air force regularly cross into Lebanese territory, regardless of numerous UN warnings to stop airspace violations. Such actions are in breach of the UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which brokered a ceasefire in the 2006 Israeli-Lebanese conflict.

“We consider violating this resolution unacceptable, especially as far as respect for Lebanon’s sovereignty and airspace is concerned. Regrettably this is a regular violation by the Israeli air force,” Lavrov said.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour said over 9,000 airspace violation incidents by Israeli aircraft have been recorded since 2006.

In January Israeli military aircraft were spotted above southern Lebanon. According to Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper, ten Israeli aircraft flew at low altitudes above the cities of Nabatieh and Marjuyun, imitating attacks on ground targets.

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American and Israel Intel Services agree–Iran not building Nukes

New York Times

WASHINGTON — While American spy agencies have believed that the Iranians halted efforts to build a nuclear bomb back in 2003, the difficulty in assessing the government’s ambitions was evident two years ago, when what appeared to be alarming new intelligence emerged, according to current and former United States officials.       

The military complex at Parchin, Iran, southeast of Tehran, in a 2004 satellite image.                           

Intercepted communications of Iranian officials discussing their nuclear program raised concerns that the country’s leaders had decided to revive efforts to develop a weapon, intelligence officials said.       

That, along with a stream of other information, set off an intensive review and delayed publication of the 2010 National Intelligence Estimate, a classified report reflecting the consensus of analysts from 16 agencies. But in the end, they deemed the intercepts and other evidence unpersuasive, and they stuck to their longstanding conclusion.       

The intelligence crisis that erupted in 2010, which has not been previously disclosed, only underscores how central that assessment has become to matters of war and peace.       

Today, as suspicions about Iran’s nuclear ambitions have provoked tough sanctions and threats of military confrontation, top administration officials have said that Iran still has not decided to pursue a weapon, reflecting the intelligence community’s secret analysis. But if that assessment changes, it could lift a brake set by President Obama, who has not ruled out military options as a last resort to prevent Iran gaining nuclear arms.       

Publicly and privately, American intelligence officials express confidence in the spy agencies’ assertions. Still, some acknowledge significant intelligence gaps in understanding the intentions of Iran’s leaders and whether they would approve the crucial steps toward engineering a bomb, the most covert aspect of one of the most difficult intelligence collection targets in the world.       

Much of what analysts sift through are shards of information that are ambiguous or incomplete, sometimes not up to date, and that typically offer more insight about what the Iranians are not doing than evidence of what they are up to.       

As a result, officials caution that they cannot offer certainty. “I’d say that I have about 75 percent confidence in the assessment that they haven’t restarted the program,” said one former senior intelligence official.       

Another former intelligence official said: “Iran is the hardest intelligence target there is. It is harder by far than North Korea.       

“In large part, that’s because their system is so confusing,” he said, which “has the effect of making it difficult to determine who speaks authoritatively on what.”       

And, he added, “We’re not on the ground, and not having our people on the ground to catch nuance is a problem.”       

Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful civilian purposes, but American intelligence agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency have picked up evidence in recent years that some Iranian research activities that may be weapons-related have continued since 2003, officials said. That information has not been significant enough for the spy agencies to alter their view that the weapons program has not been restarted.       

Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, agrees with the American intelligence assessments, even while Israeli political leaders have been pushing for quick, aggressive action to block Iran from becoming what they describe as an existential threat to the Jewish state.       

“Their people ask very hard questions, but Mossad does not disagree with the U.S. on the weapons program,” said one former senior American intelligence official, who, like others for this article, would speak only on the condition of anonymity about classified information. “There is not a lot of dispute between the U.S. and Israeli intelligence communities on the facts.”       

In trying to evaluate the potential perils of Iran’s nuclear program, the United States’ spy agencies have spent years trying to track its efforts to enrich uranium and develop missile technology, and watching for any move toward weaponization — designing and building a bomb.

Hunting for signs of the resumption of a weapons program is more difficult than monitoring enrichment and missile-building activities, both of which require large investments in plants, equipment and related infrastructure. American intelligence officials said that the conversations of only a dozen or so top Iranian officials and scientists would be worth monitoring in order to determine whether the weapons program had been restarted, because decision-making on nuclear matters is so highly compartmentalized in Iran.

“Reactors are easier to track than enrichment facilities, but obviously anything that involves a lot of construction is easier to track than scientific and intellectual work,” said Jeffrey T. Richelson, the author of “Spying on the Bomb,” a history of American nuclear intelligence. “At certain stages, it is very hard to track the weapons work unless someone is blabbing and their communications can be intercepted.”       

The extent of the evidence the spy agencies have collected is unclear because most of their findings are classified, but intelligence officials say they have been throwing everything they have at the Iranian program.       

While the National Security Agency eavesdrops on telephone conversations of Iranian officials and conducts other forms of electronic surveillance, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency analyzes radar imagery and digital images of nuclear sites. Outside analysts believe high-tech drones prowl overhead; one came down late last year deep inside Iranian territory, though American officials said they lost control of it in Afghanistan.       

Meanwhile, clandestine ground sensors, which can detect electromagnetic signals or radioactive emissions that could be linked to covert nuclear activity, are placed near suspect Iranian facilities. The United States also relies heavily on information gathered by inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency who visit some of Iran’s nuclear-related facilities.       

But collecting independent human intelligence — recruiting spies — has been by far the most difficult task for American intelligence. Some operational lapses — and the lack of an embassy as a base of operations ever since the hostage crisis three decades ago — have frequently left the C.I.A. virtually blind on the ground in Iran, according to former intelligence officials.       

In 2004, for example, the C.I.A. put a whole network of Iranian agents in jeopardy after a technological mistake by an agency officer, according to former intelligence officials.       

In 2005, a presidential commission that reviewed the prewar failures of the intelligence on Iraq’s supposed weapons programs faulted American intelligence on Iran, saying it included little valuable information from spies.       

More recently, the C.I.A. suffered a setback in efforts to question Iranian exiles and recruit nuclear scientists. Two years ago, agency officials had to sort through the wreckage of the strange case of Shahram Amiri, an Iranian scientist who apparently defected to the United States in 2009 and then returned to Iran in 2010 after claiming he had been abducted by the C.I.A.       

His case is eerily similar to that of Vitaly Yurchenko, a K.G.B. officer who defected to the United States in 1985 and went back to the Soviet Union later that year, claiming he had been drugged and kidnapped by the C.I.A.       

Like Mr. Yurchenko, Mr. Amiri’s case has provoked debate within the agency about whether he was a genuine defector, and whether any of the information he provided could be trusted.       

The United States and Israel share intelligence on Iran, American officials said. For its spying efforts, Israel relies in part on an Iranian exile group that is labeled a terrorist organization by the United States, the Mujahedeen Khalq, or M.E.K., which is based in Iraq. The Israelis have also developed close ties in the semiautonomous region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq, and they are believed to use Kurdish agents who can move back and forth across the border into Iran.       

American intelligence officials, however, are wary of relying on information from an opposition group like the M.E.K., particularly after their experience in Iraq of relying on flawed information provided by the Iraqi National Congress, an exile group run by Ahmad Chalabi.       

“I’m very suspicious of anything that the M.E.K. provides,” said David A. Kay, who led the C.I.A.’s fruitless effort to find weapons program in Iraq. “We all dealt with the Chalabis of the world once.”       

Just as in 2010, new evidence about the Iranian nuclear program delayed the National Intelligence Estimate in 2007, the last previous assessment. Current and former American officials say that a draft version of the assessment had been completed when the United States began to collect surprising intelligence suggesting that Iran had suspended its weapons program and disbanded its weapons team four years earlier.       

The draft version had concluded that the Iranians were still trying to build a bomb, the same finding of a 2005 assessment. But as they scrutinized the new intelligence from several sources, including intercepted communications in which Iranian officials were heard complaining to one another about stopping the program, the American intelligence officials decided they had to change course, officials said. While enrichment activities continued, the evidence that Iran had halted its weapons program in 2003 at the direction of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was too strong to ignore, they said.       

One former senior official characterized the information as very persuasive. “I had high confidence in it,” he said. “There was tremendous evidence that the program had been halted.”       

And today, despite criticism of that assessment from some outside observers and hawkish politicians, American intelligence analysts still believe that the Iranians have not gotten the go-ahead from Ayatollah Khamenei to revive the program.       

“That assessment,” said one American official, “holds up really well.”

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