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Inside the Ring
Question of the Day
New Iran NIE
The U.S. intelligence community in May completed a major National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran that concluded the Iranian military is building up its missile and conventional forces but that its forces remain relatively outdated, according to U.S. officials.
The classified assessment, circulated to senior policy-makers, comes amid rising tensions in the region over Iran’s refusal to halt uranium enrichment and concerns that Israel or the United States will take military action to knock out Iranian nuclear facilities.
Intelligence officials familiar with the estimate declined to disclose its details or even its key judgments, noting that the entire document is classified.
However, the officials said one of the strategic issues discussed in the estimate is whether Iranian military forces have the capability to follow through on threats to close the Strait of Hormuz to oil shipping in the event of a U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran. An estimated 20 to 40 percent of the world’s oil passes through the 21-mile strait.
That question was discussed earlier this month by Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said the Iranian military could threaten the strait with its forces but could not keep it closed in response to U.S. and allied military action to re-open it.
Asked about Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ threats to shut down Hormuz, Adm. Mullen told reporters July 2 that:
“The analysis that I have certainly indicates that they have capabilities which could certainly hazard the Straits of Hormuz,” Adm. Mullen said July 2. “But … I believe that the ability to sustain that is not there.”
The classified estimate is the first all-agency assessment related to Iran since the questionable estimate of Iran’s nuclear program made public in December. That estimate stated that Iran had halted work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Senior U.S. intelligence officials later backtracked from the nuclear estimate, stating that Iran continues to seek nuclear arms.
“The Iranian military has an inventory of aging equipment of mixed origins - U.S., Soviet and Chinese - and is heavily reliant on foreign procurement,” a defense official told Inside the Ring. “Recent Iranian attempts to acquire advanced air defense systems from Russia, such as the SA-15 and the SA-20 [surface-to-air missiles], reflect Tehran’s attempts to modernize its defense capabilities.”
DIA Director Lt. Gen. Michael Maples told Congress in February that the Iranian navy buildup includes “asymmetric equipment such as fast missile patrol boats as well as anti-ship cruise missiles and naval mines.”
Gen. Maples also said Iran is “building an asymmetric capability to counter more advanced, adversary ground forces, including through enhancements to its Basij volunteer forces, which would play a large role in an asymmetric fight.” Its missiles can hit targets in Israel and central Europe, he said.
Iran’s recent missile tests near the Strait of Hormuz included a test firing of a Shahab-3 medium range missile.
The commanders of the U.S. Strategic Command and the U.S. European Command this week wrote to Senate leaders urging full funding of the $712 million request for missile defenses in Poland and Czech Republic, noting Iran’s recent missile tests.
About the Author
Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.
He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.
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