Israeli-US cyber attack on Iran's nuclear facilities heads off US strike - 170111 GUARDIAN

Israeli-US cyber attack on Iran's nuclear facilities heads off US strike

EWEN MacASKILL in Washington

THE CHANCES of a military strike against Iran this year are receding because of the success of a joint Israeli-US cyber attack on the country’s nuclear facilities, according to officials and analysts with knowledge of the clandestine operation.

The New York Times reported yesterday that Israel, with US help, had set up a model of the Iranian nuclear process at Dimona, the Israeli nuclear arms development centre in the Negev desert, to test a sophisticated destructive programme.

A computer worm, Stuxnet, was known last year to have been inserted into the Iranian nuclear operation and Iran admitted its programme had been delayed.

What is new is the role of Dimona, where the Israelis are reported to have been spinning nuclear centrifuges virtually identical to Iran’s nuclear plant at Natanz, and the extent of involvement by US researchers and intelligence agencies. The centrifuges are used to enrich uranium.

Last year, rumours of military action began to be heard louder around Washington, with diplomats and officials warning that this year would be the year of decision on whether to launch a military strike. But the mood has changed.

An official said that the military option is now less likely, citing not only the cyber attack, but also the synchronised assassination last year of two Iranian nuclear scientists, attributed to Israel.

A leading analyst, Avner Cohen, the Washington-based author of Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb, said yesterday: “In the short term, it surely makes military action less likely. I do not see any military action against Iran anytime soon. It takes the pressure off. It does not mean military action is off the table, but it is not a short-term concern.”

Mr Cohen, from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, said he believed reports about testing the Stuxnet on centrifuges at Dimona and the involvement of the US were largely accurate. The work at Dimona was carried out over the last two years.

– (Guardian)