Three events took place recently that have changed my view of an Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
For years now, I have answered the war-mongers and headline-grabbers who have gleefully touted impending Israeli airstrikes on Iran with caution. I have stated, with reason and facts in support, that Israel has demonstrated repeatedly that it has many ways of slowing down Iran’s nuclear weapons programs short of a kinetic military strike.
Why take the risk of airstrikes, which all the world will see, when you can slow down the program by other means that in addition are difficult to pin on Israel?
For example: for many years, under Mossad director Meir Dagan, Israel carried out targeted assassinations of Iranian nuclear weapon scientists, acts that presumably had a deterrent effect on younger scientists joining the programs.
Israel collaborated with the United States in inserting computer viruses inside Iran’s uranium enrichment plants, causing high-speed centrifuges to crash and probably explode, leading to clean-up operations and repairs that set back the program by months and possibly years.
Israel also carried out the most audacious human intelligence operation in the history of modern espionage by locating Iran’s top secret nuclear archive in a nondescript suburb of Tehran, penetrating the building, breaking multiple bank vaults inside, and spiriting away hundreds of boxes of documents that detailed Iran’s lies to UN nuclear inspectors about its intentions. For well over a year, the Iranians had no clue that they had been penetrated– until Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed the documents to the world at the UN General Assembly in New York.
But good – even great – intelligence operations have their limits. Great intelligence could never have stopped Hitler’s blitzkrieg into Poland. Once he had the tanks and the troops and had trained them in operations, Hitler could only be met with force.
Last week, we learned from the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Raphael Grossi, that Iran now has enough 60% enriched uranium to manufacture three or four bombs, should it choose to put that material into the final (and very short) enrichment phase to reach weapons capacity.
For months, unofficial experts, such as former IAEA inspector David Albright, have been warning that Iran was reaching such a threshold. But it’s one thing for a think tank to speculate on official information, with all its gaps. It’s quite another for the source of that information – in this case, the IAEA director – to make such a statement in his official capacity.
In the thirty-five years I have been tracking Iran’s nuclear weapons programs, which I write about in my latest book: And the Rest is History: Tales of Hostages, Arms Dealers, Dirty Tricks, and Spies – this is the first time I have heard the IAEA make such a bold statement about Iran. Normally it’s all weasel words and schoomarm warnings to proliferators to mend their ways.
Grossi’s statement did not fall on deaf ears in Israel. Former Israeli Navy chief Vice Admiral (ret.) Eliezer “Chiney” Marom told an Israeli television network on Jan. 26 that this latest information showed that Iran had become a “threshold” nuclear weapons state.Iran has turned off IAEA surveillance cameras and Israel has limited insight into its nuclear weaponry group, he said. “And when those two will be close one to the other, the moment to jump from threshold to holding nuclear weapons will be very, very short… and therefore I think the time to attack….means in the coming year.”
Marom made sure his statement was crystal clear. “We have to stop this program and sooner is better than later,” he said.
Also last week, the U.S. and Israel conducted their first-ever joint military exercise to test the interoperability of their air-land-sea-and intelligence capabilities, Juniper Oak 2023. While they did not explicitly demonstrate an attack on Iran, watching Israeli and U.S. fighter jets line up in delta formation behind B-52s sent a clear message to the mullahs in Tehran.
(The U.S. and Israeli militaries have held Juniper Oak exercises for the past twenty years, but never on this scale and never to test interoperability).
I have long been worried what the response of the Biden administration would be to an Israeli strike on Iran. The fact that the two countries carried out military exercises clearly crafted to send a message to Tehran eases those concerns, despite the ongoing love-affair of Secretary of State Tony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan with the mullahs of Tehran.
Anyone remember the policy debate following President Trump’s decision to take-out Iranian terror-master Qassem Suleymani, the diabolical and charismatic head of the Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force?
The pundits were wringing their hands, and Cassandras of all sexes were bewailing the impact of Iranian regime counter-strikes.
I was asked my opinion of the Iranian regime’s reaction to a (then) hypothetical U.S. strike against Suleymani, and I told my government interlocutors: hit them hard, as hard as you can, and they will do nothing.
That was the lesson of Operation Praying Mantis, when in 1988 President Reagan sank one-third of the Iranian navy and attacked vital Iranian oil platforms in the Persian Gulf in response to Iranian aggression against international shipping.
A nuclear-armed Iran is a far greater threat than the terrorist wasp that attacked us in the 1988. The time to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities is now. The U.S. needs to lead the charge and ensure that it is effective. With the benefit of first-rate Israeli intelligence and deep-penetration U.S. weapons, together we can knock out Iran’s nuclear weapons programs, possibly for good.
Kenneth Timmerman was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize by former Swedish deputy premier Per Ahlmark in 2006 for his work on Iran. His latest book, And the Rest is History: Tales of Hostages, Arms Dealers, Dirty Tricks, and Spies, was published by Post Hill Press.]