Iran’s nuclear program is in the news again. And for once, the news is good. A flurry of recent reports – including a major article in The New York Times – make the following three points:
• Israel and the United States collaborated on creating the Stuxnet computer worm that has damaged Iran’s nuclear facilities;
• This worm – combined with economic sanctions, assassinations and other sabotage – has been effective in delaying Iran’s progress towards a nuclear weapon; and
• This delay is more or less equal to that which would have resulted from an Israeli bombing raid.
While surprising, this final point is a matter of emerging consensus. It has been widely reported that when the Israelis sought the Bush Administration’s approval to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, they argued that such an attack could delay Iran’s nuclear program by approximately three years. Both Israeli and American leaders – including the outgoing chief of Israel’s Mossad — now claim that the Stuxnet attack has delayed Iran’s nuclear program by approximately three years. Thus Israel has apparently achieved through cyber attack everything it hoped to achieve through an airstrike. As Israeli reporter Yossi Melman phrased it, “Israel has already attacked Iran.”
Significantly, this cyber strike has delayed Iran’s nuclear program without the massive military retaliation that an airstrike would certainly have triggered. After an Israeli bombing raid, Iran would launch the hundreds of long-range missiles in its arsenal capable of reaching Israel. And Iran would order its puppets in Hezbollah and Hamas to fire their massive stockpiles of missiles at Israel as well. Every major Israeli city and even Israel’s nuclear facility in Dimona are within range of these missiles. The destruction would be catastrophic.
This cyber attack was a sign of the old Israel. An Israel that is as wise as a serpent. An Israel that goes around the mountain instead of crashing headfirst into it. It is an Israel that we have missed.
Yet despite such good news, we must remember that it’s only a temporary reprieve. Iran’s nuclear program may have been delayed, but it hasn’t been destroyed. Not even close. Iran will develop nuclear weapons within the next few years unless these tactics are maintained and even accelerated. And Iran’s well documented efforts to smuggle in nuclear technology and materiel could at any time shorten the process. The clock is still ticking.
By all accounts, economic sanctions have been an important part of the current delaying strategy. They must be strengthened immediately. According to a report in Reuters, Iran is now struggling to develop a nuclear weapon before its already crippled economy succumbs to sanctions. As one intelligence cable put it, “A race exists between the bomb and financial collapse.”
Sanctions alone wouldn’t have worked. But together with these other measures, they are proving to be invaluable. We in CUFI must resist the defeatist claim that sanctions are worthless. We must do everything in our power to avoid the day when Israel will once again be forced to contemplate a military strike as the only way to prevent Iran from going nuclear. Those of us who aren’t computer geniuses must contribute to this effort by working to strengthen sanctions.
Finally, while this week brings good news, it also brings an ominous reminder of the danger of a nuclear Iran. England’s Daily Telegraph newspaper — citing “western intelligence sources” — has reported that the Russian scientists working at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactor have sent an urgent letter back to their bosses in the Kremlin. They are alarmed that despite possible damage from Stuxnet, the Iranians are pressuring them to activate the reactor this summer, without any delay. They warn that proceeding so quickly in the face of such potential difficulties could produce a nuclear disaster on the scale of Chernobyl.
The Russian report accuses the Iranians of “not exhibiting the professional and moral responsibility” typical of other governments. It claims that the Iranians have a chilling “disregard for human life.” The implications of this report are indeed alarming, but hardly surprising. If the Iranians would risk a nuclear disaster at home to develop a nuclear weapon, is there any reason to believe they wouldn’t inflict a nuclear disaster abroad by using a nuclear weapon?
In stark contrast, the Israelis have once again demonstrated their supreme respect for innocent human life, and even “innocent” foreign property. Experts have noted that the Stuxnet worm was carefully designed to damage only Iran’s nuclear facilities. Although the worm has spread to computers around the world, these computers have not been impaired. The worm only goes active in the presence of a complex configuration that can be found in one place – Iran’s nuclear facilities. Well done, Israel.
David Brog is the executive director of Christians United for Israel and author of a new book, In Defense of Faith: The Judeo-Christian Idea and the Struggle for Humanity. You can follow David on Facebook by clicking here and on Twitter by clicking here.