Israel’s Attacks On Iran’s Nuclear Sites Signal A New Phase Of Conflict

| Educate!

Above photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on 5 July. Reuters.

An ongoing, medium-intensity conflict between Israel and Iran strengthens Netanyahu’s argument that he is best-positioned to protect his country’s interests.

Over the past week, mysterious explosions and fires have wracked key infrastructure connected to Iran’s nuclear programme at Natanz and Parchin, key facilities engaged in uranium enrichment and the production of rocket fuel for ballistic missiles.

The US and Israel have accused Iran of violating UN resolutions and the nuclear deal in testing new ballistic-missile technology. Although Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has repeatedly denied any intent to create nuclear weapons, even going so far as to issue a fatwa against it, Iran’s enemies are convinced it plans to “go nuclear”.

The recent attacks appear to be an attempt by a hostile state to degrade that programme and delay Iran’s ability to potentially send such weapons to targets outside of Iran. Tehran has said that a cyberattack could be behind the explosion at Natanz, which destroyed a building that allegedly housed an advanced centrifuge system that could increase the speed of enrichment by up to 50 times.

Risky undertaking

According to the New York Times, a “Middle Eastern intelligence official with knowledge of the episode” said that Israel was responsible for the Natanz attack. “The blast was caused by an explosive device planted inside the facility,” the Times reported, citing information from an intelligence source. The explosion “destroyed much of the aboveground parts of the facility where new centrifuges – delicate devices that spin at supersonic speeds – are balanced before they are put into operation”.

Avigdor Lieberman, a rival of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has accused Mossad chief Yossi Cohen of being the source. In a radio interview, he said the leak was a deliberate attempt to embellish Cohen’s resume at the expense of Israeli national security, as he prepared to transition from the Mossad to a political career as Netanyahu’s possible successor as Likud leader.

According to the Times, “while investigators have considered the possibility that Natanz was hit … by a cruise missile or a drone, they view it as more likely that someone carried a bomb into the building”. An unidentified Revolutionary Guard member told the Times that while it was unclear how the explosives were snuck in, “the attack clearly demonstrated a hole in the facility’s security”.

This, together with the fact that a hitherto unknown anti-regime group, the Homeland Cheetahs, contacted BBC Persian hours before the bombing was made public to claim responsibility, points to the possible involvement of the anti-regime Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK). Israel is known to have executed joint assassination operations with MEK killers on the ground in the past.

According to the Kuwaiti media outlet al-Jarida, an Israeli F-35 stealth jet was used to bomb the Parchin complex. While this is possible, flying an aircraft from Israel to Iran for such an attack would be a technically complex and risky undertaking. Al-Jarida further reported that the fire at Natanz was the result of a cyberattack aimed at gas compression controls.

Stuxnet attack

A decade ago, joint US-Israeli efforts resulted in the development of the Stuxnet worm, which infected Natanz and was inadvertently sent around the world. Stuxnet was reportedly delivered via a USB stick. It’s unclear what method might have been used this time, but presumably the attackers would have been looking to exploit any similar lapses of Iranian cybersecurity.

A possible motivator could have been a thwarted cyberattack on six Israeli water plants in April, intended to cause systems to malfunction. According to a report in the Times of Israel, which cited Channel 13 news, the attack “was viewed as a significant escalation by Iran and a crossing of a red line because it targeted civilian infrastructure”.

As such, the latest attacks against Iran could be, at least in part, Israeli retaliation and a warning of the price Iran will pay for such mischief. Yet, the sheer scale of the attacks indicates a massive escalation in hostilities. Iran would also assume, likely correctly, that Israel informed its closest military ally of its mission, and therefore view these acts as joint US-Israeli operations.

That could explain the latest missile attack on US diplomatic and military installations in Iraq. In an unprecedented move, Iraqi troops last month arrested a group of Iran-backed fighters allegedly plotting a new attack against the Green Zone in Baghdad. Washington has blamed pro-Iranian militias for rocket attacks targeting US troops across Iraq in recent months.

Israel and Iran have played out their rivalry in Iraq before. Iran will undoubtedly seek to exact revenge on Israeli or US assets wherever it can find them. This is no longer a game of cat-and-mouse; it is only a matter of time before one or more of the parties accidentally or intentionally tips the situation into an outbreak of massive, unrestrained conflict.

Netanyahu’s corruption trial

The timing of these developments could prove extremely useful for Netanyahu, coming in the midst of his corruption trial. If convicted, Netanyahu could be forced to resign, possibly ending his political career. One of the wiliest of Israeli politicians, Netanyahu would not be above mounting attacks to buttress the notion that he is an indispensable leader protecting Israel’s security by eliminating grave threats, such as those posed by Iran.

Furthermore, Netanyahu’s grand plan to annex 30 percent of the occupied West Bank has incited a firestorm of opposition around the globe. Denunciations and warnings have come from political leaders, international diplomats and human rights groups. The Trump administration, thought to have offered full support for the plan, seems now at cross-purposes, with hardliners such as Ambassador David Friedman backing annexation and adviser Jared Kushner urging caution.

Former Israeli Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg even told an Italian newspaper that the US was responsible for halting annexation (for now). If he is correct, then the explosions in Iran would be just the ticket to distract public attention from yet another failure by Netanyahu to implement policies favoured by his ultra-nationalist constituency.

These attacks are also characteristic of Israel’s strategy to avoid comprehensive solutions to intractable issues and instead engage in half-measures, aptly known in Israeli idiom as “mowing the grass”.

Iran analysts and nuclear experts say these attacks do not fundamentally alter Iran’s trajectory if it is seeking nuclear capabilities; at best, they delay progress by a few months or a year. There is no way, short of regime change or armed invasion, that countries can deter rivals determined to obtain nuclear weapons.

Informed Israeli sources have repeatedly said Netanyahu never intended to attack Iran on the scale necessary to deal a massive blow to its nuclear programme. At best, these operations only delay the inevitable – and this may be exactly what Netanyahu wants. An ongoing, medium-intensity conflict between Israel and Iran strengthens his argument that he is the only figure who can protect Israeli interests.

Richard Silverstein writes the Tikun Olam blog, devoted to exposing the excesses of the Israeli national security state. His work has appeared in Haaretz, the Forward, the Seattle Times and the Los Angeles Times. He contributed to the essay collection devoted to the 2006 Lebanon war, A Time to Speak Out (Verso) and has another essay in the collection, Israel and Palestine: Alternate Perspectives on Statehood (Rowman & Littlefield) Photo of RS by: (Erika Schultz/Seattle Times)

  • Tony

    Iran has refused US imperialism since 1979. That is why she is disparaged by the US government and its lapdog, pro-war corporate media.

  • Nylene13

    What a sorry mess we have made of this beautiful planet.
    No wonder that advanced civilizations from other planets have made no contact with us.
    We have been written off as hopelessly insane, and left to destroy ourselves.

  • didactic1

    Iran is a corrupt, clerical far right fascist regime. The mullahs should meet the Romanovs” fate.

  • didactic1

    The throats of sexist racist mullahs should be stuffed with quotes from Rosa Luxemburg.

  • didactic1

    You are incoherent. Unhelpful. Try 24 hrs of silence.

  • potshot

    Pity Iran doesn’t have a democratically elected government like it did in 1953, before Kermit Roosevelt, Rough Rider Teddy’s son, and the CIA, deposed President Mossadegh. Then backed the Shah and the Savak, his secret police, until the revolution in 1979.

  • tttbnr

    The war pigs are using the pandemic as an opportunity to antagonize their coveted target of Iran. Hopefully Iran will not retaliate in a way that stimulates popular support for escalation of a violent conflict. Iran’s restraint to use Western violence against its antogonists after decades of persecution demonstrates its dedication to humanitarian values, which are in stark contrast to the imperial values of acquisition and antipathy demonstrated by the US and Israel. Americans and Israelis must oppose their despicable leaderships to stop the continued oppression of Iran.

  • Nylene13

    I am not much for silence.

    More of a believer in Freedom of Speech.

  • chetdude

    Given the examples of what happened to Saddam and Gaddafi when they ABANDONED their nuclear programs and the counter-example of Kim who didn’t, it would be quite rational for Iran to try to obtain some nukes to act as a deterrent to the number one terrorist nation on the Planet and its poodle (or master, depending upon how you look at it and/or the context).

  • chetdude

    You should learn to oppose all tyrants…

  • didactic1

    Ah, who gets to define tyrant?

  • chetdude

    Apparently only the USAmerican Empire…

  • tomonthebay

    Perhaps one of those volcanoes you think are alive can give you some answers.

  • didactic1

    Oh everyone engaged in the you are bad tyrant game.

  • EDYS

    All of these conspiracy theories against the great Iran are utter nonsense. It’s just very hot right now and the wiring is old. It must have been self-blasting.

  • chetdude

    My slogan is “Piss on ALL Flags!”

  • Jay Hansen

    I regret that I have but one upvote for that post.