How much can intel agencies slow Iranian nuke program by sabotage?

No one has figured out how to stop Iran from getting a nuclear bomb, but it appears that the US is engaging in another intense round of sabotage to slow it down.

February 15, 2019 00:45
3 minute read.
How much can intel agencies slow Iranian nuke program by sabotage?

A member of Iran's army speaks with a visitor as they stand next to the Iranian Yasser ballistic bomb during a war exhibition to commemorate the anniversary of Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), in Baharestan square near the Parliament building in southern Tehran . (photo credit: REUTERS/MORTEZA NIKOUBAZL)


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No one has figured out how to stop Iran from getting a nuclear bomb, but it appears that the US is engaging in another intense round of sabotage to slow it down.

Will slowing it down hold off the Islamic Republic from becoming a nuclear threat?

If past experience is any indication, slowing down is just that, and not a long-term solution to the threat.

Former Vice Chairman of the US military James Cartwright was convicted in 2016 of leaking the US-Israeli roles in the 2009-2010 Stuxnet cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear program.

Some experts believe that Stuxnet set Tehran back as much as two years by sabotaging around 1,000 centrifuges which enrich uranium.

Initially, Stuxnet was declared a spycraft miracle and the Mossad and the CIA were praised for their ingenuity.

It is also quite possible that the two year delay was part of a package, along with global sanctions, which convinced Iran to sign the 2015 nuclear deal.

For those who support the deal and say it put off Iran achieving nuclear capability for the next ten years, believe that cyber and other forms of sabotage were a success.

But as the years have passed and no one has come up with an answer about what will prevent the Islamic Republic from developing a nuclear weapon at the end of the deal, or if it decides to break it, the cyber and sabotage achievements have been viewed as modest.

Some US officials eventually accused Israel of deploying Stuxnet too aggressively in a way that blew the virus’s cover.

While former deputy Mossad chief Ram Ben-Barak told The Jerusalem Post that such accusations fail to account for the possibility that a nuclear Iran could already be here, the limits of sabotage have become clearer.

Former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo has also said that all of the Mossad’s efforts to date regarding Iran – without specifically confirming any specific assassinations of scientists, cyberattacks or sabotage – have failed to end its ability to develop a nuclear weapon.

The New York Times reported late on Wednesday that the Trump administration has accelerated and revitalized a secret US program to sabotage the Islamic Republic’s missiles and rockets.

The report said that current and former US officials could not measure precisely the success of the classified program, but noted two failed Iranian attempts to launch satellites in the last month.

Iran announced one failure on January 5 and Western experts identified another unacknowledged failure on February 5.

The report said that 67% of Iranian orbital launches have failed compared to a 5% worldwide failure rate and cited a pattern stretching back 11 years, which seemed to have the fingerprints of sabotage.

Reportedly, when Mike Pompeo – who has a degree in mechanical engineering and previously ran an aerospace company – became CIA Director in 2017, he injected new resources and a sense of urgency into the sabotage program.

According to the report, US officials even asked the Times to withhold some details of its reporting involving the identities of specific suppliers to the Iranian program, because the sabotage is ongoing.

All of this probably means that one can add on months or maybe a year to the six months to two years estimates of how long it would take Iran to make a nuclear bomb if it decided to do so.

Yet even if these efforts slow Iran down as they did in the past and as sabotage efforts likely slowed down North Korea, just as Pyongyang adapted, Tehran likely will too.

The current talks between the US and North Korea essentially came after the North shocked US intelligence by leaping forward in its missile tests and launches.

And once the nuclear deal ends and Tehran can build an unlimited number of centrifuges to enrich uranium, the time to build a bomb may shrink considerably.

Sabotage is great movie material and can buy time, but there still appears to be no solid formula for blocking Iran’s path to the bomb.

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