(CNSNews.com) – A decision to strike references to Iran and Hezbollah from the “Terrorism” subsection of the U.S. intelligence community’s 2015 Worldwide Threat Assessment report is stoking controversy, with critics suspecting that the administration is pandering to Iran in a bid to smooth the nuclear negotiations as they come down to the wire.
Unlike previous years’ reports, this year’s one, released by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on February 26, does not mention Iran or its Lebanese-based proxy, the Shi’ite terrorist group Hezbollah, in the subsection entitled “Terrorism.”
In a statement provided to CNSNews.com by the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, a U.S. official said the intelligence community's position on Iran had not changed.
“This year’s Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. intelligence community report was simply a format change,” the official said. “There is no ‘softening’ of our position.”
“In fact, Director Clapper specifically referenced the threat from Iran and its client Hezbollah in his recent testimony,” the official said. “Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah continue to directly threaten the interests of U.S. national interests because of its support to the Assad regime in Syria, promulgation of anti-Israeli policies, development of advanced military capabilities, and pursuit of its nuclear program.”
The 2005 report’s format does not appear to be substantively different from that of the 2014 one: Under the “Global Threats” section both have seven identical or similar subsections (including “Terrorism”). The main difference is that the 2014 report has two further subsections called “Health risks” and “Mass atrocities” while the 2015 one has one called “Human security” that essentially covers the same ground.
Former ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton was scathing of the claim that Iran and Hezbollah were not included because of a formatting change, calling it “a flat lie.”
“The format of this year’s report is exactly the same as last year’s report,” he told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren on Tuesday night.
Bolton said he believed the real explanation was clear.
“I think the Iranian negotiators [in the nuclear talks] told the American negotiators, ‘you’ve got to start going easy on us on this terrorism stuff,’” he said.
“Because what they want is not simply to be freed from the sanctions that were imposed because of the nuclear program; they want to be freed from the sanctions that have been imposed 30-plus years because of their state-sponsorship of terrorism.”
A similar assessment came from an Israeli think-tank, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, which first drew attention early this week to the missing references to Iran and Hezbollah.
“[T]he lack of reference to the Shi’ite terrorist threat, and Iran and Hezbollah as its generators, is not accidental,” it said in a report Sunday.
“The ITIC believes that this is due to a combination of political considerations (the U.S. dialogue with Iran over the nuclear agreement) and the idea that Iran and Hezbollah may be of assistance in the campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq and possibly in other countries,” it said.
‘Not seen since the 1990s’
Iran does feature in other subsections of the 2015 report, including “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” “Cyber,” and “Regional threats.” But even in the “Regional threats” section, the Iran portion is silent on its support for terrorism, focusing instead on its backing for the Assad regime, activities in Iraq, and military and missile developments.
And the entire report contains a single reference to Hezbollah, relating to attacks against the Shi’ite group by Sunni militants along the Lebanon-Syria border.
By contrast to the 2015 report, the equivalent 2014 report, under the “Terrorism” subsection, stated that “Iran and Lebanese Hizballah continue to directly threaten the interests of U.S. allies. Hizballah has increased its global terrorist activity in recent years to a level that we have not seen since the 1990s.”
The 2013 report contained several paragraphs on the topic (using an alternative spelling for Hezbollah):
“We also face uncertainty about potential threats from Iran and Lebanese Hizballah, which see the United States and Israel as their principal enemies,” it said.
“The failed 2011 plot against the Saudi Ambassador in Washington shows that Iran may be more willing to seize opportunities to attack in the United States in response to perceived offenses against the regime. Iran is also an emerging and increasingly aggressive cyber actor. However, we have not changed our assessment that Iran prefers to avoid direct confrontation with the United States because regime preservation is its top priority.”
“Hizballah’s overseas terrorist activity has been focused on Israel—an example is the Bulgarian Government’s announcement that Hizballah was responsible for the July 2012 bus bombing at the Burgas airport that killed five Israeli citizens. We continue to assess that the group maintains a strong anti-US agenda but is reluctant to confront the United States directly outside the Middle East.”Also see: