The new NIE is one of the biggest reversals in the history of US intelligence. Iran does not have a bomb and is not working on a bomb. The earliest date it can build a bomb is 2009, but that’s highly unlikely. It’s more likely to be in 2010-2015, if it ever decides to make it. Iran’s nuke program does not pose a clear and present danger. The NIE now provides a pretext for US government to de-escalate tension and avoid a military conflict with Iran.
Not so fast, the skeptics argue. The NIE indeed confirms the existence of a nuclear weapon program prior to 2003. Iranians decided to suspend their activities under the threat of US troops who had just invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam. International pressure kept them from reactivating the program. If Iran wants to produce a bomb, they can do so. The decision is theirs alone.
The wild card is Israel. Even if the chance of an Iranian bomb by 2009 is very low, that minimal chance is still a very serious matter for the Israelis. The IDF intelligence and the Mosad are surely examining their own data in light of the new NIE, but knowing the Israelis it is safe to assume that they would have more confidence in their own information and that they would try in the coming months to convince the Americans to reassess their sources and their findings.
The Newsweek is reporting that US intelligence officials deny categorically that their main source was former IRGC Brig. Gen. Ali Reza Asgari, but instead they relied heavily on an electronic intercept in which an Iranian scientist was overheard complaining earlier this year about how Iran's nuclear weapons program had been shut down in 2003. The CIA and the entire US intelligence community must have high confidence in their source to produce one of the biggest reversals in community’s key judgments.
Skepticism notwithstanding, in practical political terms the new NIE has postponed any military conflict with Iran, at lease for the Americans.