Iranian Nuclear Program Would Outlive Attack, Gates Says

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates yesterday dismissed the likelihood that use of military force could completely undo Iran's contested nuclear activities, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, Nov. 16).

An attack would provide a "short-term solution" to the matter that would last only two to three years, according to Gates. Meanwhile, Iran's atomic operations "would just go deeper and more covert," the Pentagon chief said during a conference.

In addition, a strike would "bring together a divided nation, it will make them absolutely committed to obtaining nuclear weapons," Gates said.

"The only long-term solution to avoiding an Iranian nuclear weapons capability is for the Iranians to decide it's not in their interest," he said.

Washington and other governments suspect that Iran is pursuing a nuclear-weapon capability, an assertion vehemently rejected by Tehran. The U.N. Security Council has hit the Middle Eastern state with four sanctions resolutions, with additional penalties coming from the European Union and a number of nations.

The most recent penalties are affecting Iran and appear to be disrupting the relationship between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Gates said.

"We even have some evidence that Khamenei now is beginning to wonder if Ahmadinejad is lying to him about the impact of the sanctions on the economy," he said.

"I personally believe they are intent on acquiring nuclear weapons, but also the information we that have is that they've been surprised by the impact of the sanctions," Gates added, asserting that the penalties "have really bitten much harder than they anticipated" (Agence France-Presse/, Nov. 16).

There is no sign yet, though, that Tehran is prepared to accept a diplomatic resolution to the impasse, according to the Washington Post. Iran's senior nuclear negotiator is tentatively set to meet next month with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who would represent world powers China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States (Glenn Kessler, Washington Post I, Nov. 16).

Meanwhile, recent findings suggest that the "Stuxnet" computer worm that this year infected computers at Iran's Bushehr reactor might have been aimed directly at undermining the nation's atomic operations, the Post reported yesterday (see GSN, Sept. 30).

An analyst for the information security company Symantec said in a blog posting that the worm went after systems that featured "converter drives" marketed by two particular firms, one operating from Iran.

German cyber defense company Langner Communications, meanwhile, stated that a component of the worm's coding was designed to be used against steam turbine control technology used at Bushehr and other power plants. The worm seemed to strike against crucial parts of centrifuges, the firm stated.

The assertions by Symantec, "if true, are very significant," said Ivanka Barzashka, a research associate at the Federation of American Scientists.

"Centrifuges are delicate pieces of equipment," she said by e-mail. "There is a huge incentive for pushing the machines to operate at the maximum speed allowed by the materials they are made of. In addition, before they reach their maximum operating speeds, centrifuges have to traverse certain 'critical frequencies' at which they encounter resonance and can fly apart."

"Rigging the speed control is a very clever way of causing the machines to fly apart," Barzashka added. "If Symantec's analysis is true, then Stuxnet likely aimed to destroy Iran's gas centrifuges, which could produce enriched uranium for both nuclear fuel and nuclear bombs."

Observers have said an advanced entity such as a government organization was most likely to have created the worm. Israel and the United States are seen as two possible culprits, according to the Post (Glenn Kessler, Washington Post II, Nov. 16).

Elsewhere, Iran today claimed that aircraft from other nations entered its airspace on six occasions this week while the Middle Eastern state is conducting a major air defense exercise, the Associated Press reported.

"There were six cases of intrusion by unidentified planes into the country," Gen. Hamid Arjangi said in a state media report. "In all six cases, air force jet fighters took off and carried out interception operations ... artillery systems were alerted, targets were identified and necessary warnings were given."

The drill is intended as a demonstration of Iran's readiness to ward off attacks against its nuclear infrastructure, according to AP (Ali Akbar Dareini, Associated Press/Yahoo!News, Nov. 17).

A Reuters report indicated that Arjangi was discussing a simulated intrusion by fighter aircraft that was part of the exercise.

"The exercise will improve our ability to confront possible threats to Iran's air space and the very populated, vital and nuclear centers," according to high-level Revolutionary Guard commander Ahmad Mighani said (Parisa Hafezi, Reuters, Nov. 17).

November 17, 2010

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates yesterday dismissed the likelihood that use of military force could completely undo Iran's contested nuclear activities, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, Nov. 16).