Thursday, November 05, 2009

The dillema of intelligence

The seizure of a consignment of Iranian arms destined for Hezbollah demonstrates a particularly difficult problem of intelligence: it may not make any difference at all.

While any action that reduces the amount of arms available to either the Iranian regime or their Hezbollah franchisees is good, this is clearly only a tactical victory at best. The arms factories will continue to churn out more weapons in Iran and some means will be found of delivering significant quantities to Hezbollah.

Clearly Israel was acting on intelligence sources. So it is equally clear that Iran and Hezbollah will be moving to close the breach. Not knowing is bad, but even if you know you are unable to act on it without a significant risk of not knowing in future.

Which makes me wonder quite why this particular interdiction took place. One possibility is that the Israelis knew that they would be loosing their source in any case, the source might be a defector.

Another is that the timing is determined by Israeli politics. Netanyahu is in a pretty weak diplomatic position, Israel has only one major ally and under Obama the US is not prepared to underwrite the Likud line. I doubt that this is the case, while Netanyahu is certainly capable of that type of calculation, the Mossad people know this and would be expected to control access to information accordingly.

Another possibility is that Israel would prefer to cause the Iranian regime to occupy itself with a mole hunt at the moment. Hunts for traitors can do an immense amount of damage in themselves. They can even cause defections of those previously loyal. If so, this would be rather interesting as Mossad is one of the few intelligence services that appears to have any useful internal knowledge of the Iranian regime. If they are prepared to risk losing sources it is likely because they consider the regime to be particularly vulnerable at this point in time.

No comments: