The plot behind the Iran nuclear capability memo has become thicker. I assume that Thom Shanker and David Sanger of the New York Times got an administration-authorized "leak" that was designed to allow the idea that Iran cannot be prevented from achieving nuclear capability to enter the US national dialogue.
Whether that was the intention or not, that will be the ultimate effect of the memo. But US Defense Secretary Robert Gates is now claiming that the idea, reported in the previous New York Times article, that the memo represented a "wake up call" is wrong.
The New York Times article quoted one senior official as saying the document was a “wake-up call.” But Mr. Gates said, “The New York Times sources who revealed my January memo to the national security advisor mischaracterized its purpose and content.”The content of the memo is really not notable. We've known for a long time that the US does not have options to prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear capability. We've even known that the Obama administration knows, or should know this because we've seen the results of multiple elaborate war-gaming exercises none of which presented an option that meaningfully effects Iran's acquisition of nuclear capability.
Senior administration officials, asked Sunday to give specific examples of what was mischaracterized in the article, declined to discuss the content of the memo, citing its classified status. In his statement, Mr. Gates offered no details on the issues he raised in his memo.
What is notable about the memo is that it was released, that we hear in the administration's own voice 1) that Iran's program cannot be stopped and 2) that Iran's program is not expected to aim for a weapon but for weapons capability. 1) and 2) together mean that the US commitment to ensure that Israel has a monopoly among its neighbors of nuclear capability is over. To hear that in a report both authored by the administration and released to the public is very notable. In fact it is a huge change in the strategic environment.
The way the memo was leaked, on Saturday night, too late for the Sunday news presentations to schedule an administration representative to speak on them - along with the fact that this Sunday it so happened that no members of the administration were scheduled to appear on any of the Sunday television news interview shows indicates that it was a deliberate leak by the administration, and that the New York Times published the account with the blessing of the White House.
The New York Times does have a history of withholding news stories at the request of the President's office. Surely Obama could have had this story withheld.
Gates claims that the memo was not a wake up call - was not a spur to request that the White House create some new military option that didn't exist before. That claim by Gates is correct but also not surprising. Gates does not claim that the memo's conclusion, that the US does not have a policy option that will prevent Iran from achieving nuclear capability is false. If there is news in the later report, that is it.
Gates is now confirming, on the record, under his own name, that Israel, contrary to its perceived strategic necessities, is going to have to adjust to an Iranian nuclear capability. In the article, Admiral Mike Mullen adds his voice in confirmation.
We have not seen a response from Israel, and it may take time for Israel to fully come to terms with these developments, but this weekend Israel's strategic situation, at the level of what it can expect from its patron and sponsor has shifted in a fairly dramatic way.