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Monday, December 17, 2007       Free Headline Alerts

Israeli minister warns NIE 'miscalculation' could lead to war: 'Something went wrong'

TEL AVIV A senior Israeli official has voiced the first open criticism of the U.S. intelligence assessment of Iran's nuclear program.

Israeli Public Security Minister Avi Dichter warned that the United States underestimated Iran's nuclear capabilities and intentions. Dichter said the National Intelligence Estimate, which asserted that Teheran abandoned its nuclear weapons program, could lead to a Middle East war.

"Something went wrong in the American blueprint for analyzing the severity of the Iranian nuclear threat," Dichter, a former Israeli intelligence chief, said. "We have to hope that the United States will know to correct this. Israel and other states must help in any way including providing intelligence material so as to repair this miscalculation."

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Dichter was the first Israeli minister to openly criticize the U.S. intelligence assessment of Iran. The government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has constantly stressed cooperation with the Bush administration.

"We have not been able to convince the Americans that the Iranian threat is immediate," Dichter said.

Addressing a meeting on Saturday, Dichter said U.S. policy in the Middle East could encourage Iranian aggression. He said this could result in a surprise Iranian attack that would threaten Israel as well as other countries in the region.

"A misconception by the world's leading superpower is not just a domestic American occurrence," Dichter said. "This has to cause concern in Israel and many other countries."

Dichter raised the prospect that the U.S. intelligence community would also err in determining the intentions of the Palestinian Authority. He pointed out that Israel has enabled the Bush administration to accelerate efforts to establish a Palestinian state by 2009.

"The United States has been authorized to be the arbiter that determines whether the Palestinians are fulfilling their roadmap obligations on all matters relating to combating terrorism," Dichter said. "Those same [intelligence] arms in the United States could make a mistake and declare that the Palestinians have fulfilled their commitments, which would carry with it very serious consequences from Israel's vantage point."

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