The NY Times has published two stories in the past two days about the latest developments in the attempt by computer security specialists to penetrate the Stuxnet worm and its target. They have isolated the precise targets as being the centrifuge arrays and steam turbines at the Natanz and Bushehr plants. Now, more than ever these individuals are convinced that it was the work of Israel. There are no longer any other perpetrators being spoken of as likely suspects. Yesterday’s article even noted without providing a source that Israeli officials were seen to break out into wide smiles when asked if Israel could be credited for the job.
The malicious program, known as Stuxnet, is designed to disable both Iranian centrifuges used to enrich uranium and steam turbines at the Bushehr nuclear power plant, which is scheduled to begin operation next year, said the engineer, Ralph Langner, an industrial control systems specialist based in Hamburg, Germany.
Natanz is the nuclear plant that is enriching uranium that could, possibly be turned into a weapon given certain conditions and circumstances. But no specialist I’ve ever talked to has said that Bushehr is anything other than a reactor enriching uranium for medical purposes. So why target a bona fide civilian nuclear facility? Either Israel believes that Bushehr could possible serve some role in Iran’s reputed military nuclear program; or it damaged Bushehr l’hachis (“for spite”) just because it could and because it wanted Iran to know this was all out war and Israel’s state hackers would make no distinctions, much like they refuse to do in Gaza or Lebanon during wartime.
While arguably (again, not my argument but one Israel advances) Israel might have grounds to sabotage Natanz, it appears to have no grounds whatsoever to sabotage Bushehr. Which makes Stuxnet a real act of state terror since it was deliberately designed to attack a non-military target & do so largely out of spite or hatred of Iran.
This is characteristic of Israeli intelligence operations which often fail to distinguish between the target & collateral damage. I know it’s naïve to think that such intelligence operations and decision-making might have a moral basis, but at least shouldn’t there be a distinction between a civilian nuclear facility and military one?
If we don’t make this distinction, then how can we argue if Al Qaeda targets a U.S. civilian reactor, as we’ve heard in the news they’ve contemplated, that this is a moral threshold that should not be crossed? How would Israel be any different than Al Qaeda in this regard? God forbid, let’s imagine an attack of some sort on Dimona. Can you imagine the cries of gevalt from Israel that the mullahs and imams of radical jihad had attacked a nuclear reactor? What’s the difference? One is a worm, another a bomb. They both achieve similar objectives except that one is more stealthy than the other. My point is that this is a very slippery slope that Israel is descending. And as ye sow so shall ye reap. Remember that.
- Iran Worm Can Deal Double Blow to Nuclear Program (nytimes.com)