My Word: Positive nuclear exposure and fallout

The destruction of the Natanz plant was widely attributed to Israel and certain Israeli leaders did not make an effort to deny the allegations.

Missiles are displayed during Iran’s National Army Day parade in Tehran in September 2019. (photo credit: WANA NEWS AGENCY/REUTERS)
Missiles are displayed during Iran’s National Army Day parade in Tehran in September 2019.
 Golda Meir is said to have once told a journalist: “If you think we’ve got the bomb and our enemies think we’ve got the bomb, does it really matter if we have it or not?” 
Golda’s words came back to me this week when the principle of ambiguity was largely abandoned, at least when it came to taking credit for hitting Tehran’s atomic aspirations.
The question of “Who turned the lights out?” at Iran’s flagship nuclear facility at Natanz was raised rhetorically. The explosion that occurred there on April 11, most likely the result of a cyberattack, could set Iran’s plans for nuclear enrichment back by nine months, according to some reports.
The destruction of the Natanz plant was widely attributed to Israel and certain Israeli leaders did not make an effort to deny the allegations. On the contrary, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi both seemed happy to be credited with it and if there was any argument it was over whether the IDF or the Mossad, under Yossi Cohen, deserve the ultimate praise for the series of incidents that have thwarted Iranian designs over the last couple of years.
In a meeting with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Monday, April 12, Netanyahu told him: “My policy as Prime Minister of Israel is clear: I will never allow Iran to obtain the nuclear capability to carry out its genocidal goal of eliminating Israel. Israel will continue to defend itself against Iran’s aggression and terrorism.”
While Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz implied that Netanyahu or his supporters were leaking material about the attack for political gain, he did not distance himself from the attack itself. Indeed, when he hosted Austin on Sunday he told the high-ranking US official, “The Tehran of today poses a strategic threat to international security, to the entire Middle East, and to the State of Israel. And we will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world and the United States, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region, and protect the State of Israel.”
In another of those split-screen moments, Israel’s Kan 11 TV station on Sunday night carried news stories about the mysterious explosion in Natanz and the presentation of the Ophir Awards, considered Israel’s Oscars. And the prize for best actress in a drama series went to... Niv Sultan. She stars in Tehran as Mossad agent and super-hacker Tamar Rabinyan who penetrates the Iranian capital to try to thwart Iran’s nuclear program using her cyber skills.
The popularity of the series – which was picked up by Apple TV+  – and events in the Middle East resulted in “Rabinyan” being turned into a verb. A series of suspicious fires and accidents in Iran’s nuclear facilities along with the targeted killing of the nuclear scientist behind the project led Israelis to speak of having been “rabinyaned.” As the latest incident showed, truth might be stranger than fiction.
Netanyahu was criticized for not maintaining the golden rule of silence around either this incident or the sabotage of an Iranian naval vessel in the Red Sea last week. 
Certainly, his personality lends itself to boasting – especially if we are, Heaven forbid, about to enter the fifth round of elections in two years. 
But there are other underlying reasons why Netanyahu is so eager for the cyberattack to be attributed to Israel. An attack like this can only take place on the basis of incredibly precise intelligence and long-term planning. 
Like the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in November 2020, it sends a strong message to the Islamic Republic’s regime: We’re watching you and we’re capable of reaching you.
The message, in fact, goes far beyond Iran. It’s being received by all the ayatollahs’ allies and proxies; and it’s evident to Iran’s enemies. It’s a message of deterrence to foes and an invitation of support from friends and potential friends.
The Abraham Accords with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain did not occur in a vacuum. The Gulf states that are also threatened by Iran realized that Israel’s capabilities could be useful. No tears are shed in Saudi Arabia either when Israel hits Iran, unless they are tears of joy.
As the delegates from Iran, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the UK returned to the negotiating table in Vienna, it is a reminder that Israel is not going to sit quietly and watch an existential threat take shape in Tehran.
Threats of Iranian retribution need to be taken seriously, and it’s not by chance that this week the Mossad and Shin Bet (Israel’s Security Agency) issued a joint warning of attempts by Iran to use social media to lure Israelis traveling abroad to meetings where they can be abducted.
Fear of the Iranian response cannot be allowed to become paralyzing. However severe the threats are, they pale in comparison to what Tehran can do with its global tentacles of terror armed with nuclear capabilities.
Iran will likely try to retaliate, but it also does not want a full-blown war on its hands, particularly when it is trying to reconcile with the US administration in the post-Trump era. 
WHEN NETANYAHU took to the spotlight in April 2018 to openly present the jaw-dropping heist of Iran’s nuclear secrets from a Tehran warehouse, he proclaimed: “We have now turned our question marks into exclamation points.” 
He meant that Israel’s warnings for the last 30 years concerning Iran’s intentions and capabilities had been verified by the treasure trove of intelligence lifted out of Tehran.
The Iranians were shown to have an ongoing nuclear program and to have violated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970. When the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action allowed Iran to continue to develop its ballistic weapons program, it was clear that this was a ticking time bomb. And how fast have the past six years gone for you – even when 2020 was dominated by coronavirus?
Deterrence is essential. And so is international support. When sanctions are lifted and Iran receives funds, the world should be asking where the money is going. 
On Saturday, April 10, just a day before the Natanz explosion, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani participated in Iran’s National Nuclear Technology Day. It’s clear where its nuclear energy is being invested – on a military project.
Iran is struggling from severe economic difficulties, made worse by the COVID pandemic. But the money Iran receives is not being dedicated to the health and welfare of the country’s citizens. Iran can’t claim peaceful intentions while continuing to develop a sophisticated weapons system.
There’s a world of difference between creating nuclear-based medical programs and developing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. The difference between day and night; war and peace.
In the past, intelligence-based actions remained under the radar long after they were taken. The 2007 attack on Syria’s nascent nuclear reactor, for example, was published only in 2018.
Many intelligence officials and former members of the intelligence community are reportedly upset by the public disclosure of clandestine activities. It’s understandable. Their world is an undercover one operating in the shadows. There is also a fear that intelligence agents or local help could be revealed. But obviously, every time an attack like this takes place on Iranian assets, the Iranian regime is the first to know. 
Israel’s most important intelligence information is still kept carefully under wraps whatever politicians and pundits like to say.
The fact that people see what Israel is capable of has certain advantages, particularly as the Islamic Republic of Iran races towards its goal of nuclearization. Being credited with sophisticated attacks is not an insult to our intelligence. It’s a warning to our enemies.