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Threats to US: Pentagon officials drop three surprises

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Director of National Intelligence James Clapper listens to a question while testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington last month.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP/File

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2. Doubts about Iran's nuclear ambitions

Despite the hype surrounding Iran’s pursuit of nuclear technology, the country's leaders are “not likely” to develop weapons unless attacked, the panel said. 

The same goes for plans to close the vital Strait of Hormuz waterway, according to General Burgess. Though Iran can close the strait (“at least temporarily”), launch missiles, and even tap terrorist surrogates worldwide “if attacked,” military-intelligence officials assess that it is “unlikely to initiate or unintentionally provoke a conflict.”

What’s more, senior intelligence officials expressed some doubt that Iranian officials are actively interested in developing a nuclear weapon.

Said James Clapper, director of national intelligence (DNI): “There are certain things that they have not yet done and have not done for some time.”

On this point, the panel was robustly challenged by some lawmakers. “I’m very convinced that they’re going down the road to developing a nuclear weapon,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina.

Still, the Pentagon officials stuck to their analysis. Though Iran has enough highly enriched uranium to build a weapon “if political leaders chose to do so,” Burgess explained, he said that the prospect of stepped-up sanctions is frightening to Iranian officials. “I don’t think they want a nuclear weapon at any price.” 

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