With Stuxnet delaying Iran’s bomb, is the urgency gone?
WASHINGTON — In the wake of revelations that a computer virus may have set back Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the Western groups and analysts that track the Islamic Republic are saying, “More of the same, please.”
The benefits of a nonviolent program that inhibits Iranian hegemony by keeping the country’s nuclear weapons program at bay are obvious: Better to stop Iran with cyber warfare — in this case, the Stuxnet computer virus, which reportedly caused Iran’s nuclear centrifuges to spin out of control — than actual warfare.
For those who favor engagement, the cyber attack buys more time to coax the regime in Tehran into compliance. For those who favor the stick, it allows more time to exert pressure on Iran through sanctions and diplomatic isolation.
Almost coincident with last weekend’s revelations — published in Sunday’s New York Times in a piece that detailed the extent of the damage caused by the virus — Meir Dagan, the outgoing head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, said that Iran likely would not have a bomb before 2015. Prior to that, Israeli assessments had predicted a weapon as early as this year.
The Stuxnet revelations, if anything, reinforce the need for a tough stance, said Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. They underscore how committed Iran is to producing a bomb, he told JTA.
“It’s a reason to push down on the pedal,” said Berman, who crafted the most recent Iran sanctions law in the Congress. “Iran is still enriching uranium. It is absolutely critical we bear down with a comprehensive strategy of which sanctions is a critical part.”
Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said the delay was welcome but that the prospect of new complacency in the wake of its announcement makes it more urgent than ever to maintain a posture that includes the threat of a military strike on Iran.
“No individual measure is a silver bullet,” he said. Stuxnet “set back the program but hasn’t stopped it. If you’re going to target a hard-line regime, you’ve got to have a military option on the table.”
Such a concern was behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s furious backpedaling in the wake of Dagan’s pronouncement about 2015. The Israeli leader dismissed the prediction as one of several “intelligence estimates.” Dagan, reportedly under pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office, recast the deadline this week as 2014 and noted carefully that Iran is capable of surprises.