Iran’s nuclear program is chugging ahead at the highest levels of enrichment ever and with the least international supervision in years.
The US has not figured out what to do about this other than vague statements that the Islamic Republic does not have forever to return to the JCPOA nuclear talks which have been mostly stalled since late May.
If the Biden administration cannot figure out what it wants to do and Tehran keeps barreling forward, what options would be open to Israel to slow Iran down?
There are a range of wild covert operations that are possible, but why not an old fashion airstrike?
It is unlikely – at this stage – that Jerusalem would employ an airstrike as in 1981 against Iraq or 2007 against Syria.
Few specifics have come out on the record from CIA Director William Burns’s recent meetings this week with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Mossad Director David Barnea and other top officials.
But the tone seemed to be one of Washington trying to calm the waters.
This would mean that the Biden administration wants space for negotiations.
A major public airstrike, at this stage, could lead to major negative consequences with the US on top of retaliation from Iran and its
In addition, there is no sign that the Iranians are trying to rush to a nuclear weapon at the moment nor do officials estimate that they have completely abandoned trying to reach a deal with the US.
Rather, the impression is that the ayatollahs are stalling for one of two reasons.
Either they want to gain some new concessions upon the ascension of new President Ebrahim Raisi or they merely want to improve their understanding of enriching uranium at higher levels before signing a deal.
In that light, Israel would probably not choose a large public airstrike at this time regardless of the US position.
This is especially true because Iran is probably currently further away from a nuclear weapon than Jerusalem is admitting in public.
Four operations attributed by Iran to the Mossad over the last 13 months have hobbled multiple aspects of the program, even as other aspects continue to operate.
These operations dovetail well with the menu of options the Mossad has to slow Iran’s progress covertly so that it is deterred from further stalling and cannot continue to learn from high level enrichment.
The operations were sabotages of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities at Natanz in July 2020 and April of this year, of the Karaj nuclear center in June and the assassination of Iran military nuclear chief Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in November 2020.
According to Iran and with validations The Jerusalem Post has received, the two Natanz hits and the Karaj hits were all physical sabotage.
It is interesting that in all three cases there were some initial reports, later disproven, that the sabotage was caused by cyberattacks.
Of course, one reason that many assumed that the attacks, especially at Natanz, were cyber, is because the Stuxnet virus attack which damaged over 1,000 Iranian centrifuges at Natanz between 2009-2010 was a cyber strike.
And if cyber was not used specifically against Iran in the nuclear arena of Natanz or Karaj, Iran has attributed to Israel a May 2020 electronic attack which shut down its critical Shahid Rajaee port. Also, Iran accused the Jewish state of a hack to its key Saviz intelligence sea vessel in April of this year, which caused an explosion and major damage to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps intelligence capabilities.
In contrast, the two explosions at Natanz were caused by bombs which had been placed in furniture in those facilities and, according to early reports, the sabotage at Karaj was accomplished by a drone or multiple drones.
Besides cyberattacks or sabotage by creatively planting bombs, drones or otherwise, the assassination of Fakhrizadeh was part of a long line of Iranian scientists who have been killed.
Almost an entire group of key Iranian nuclear science officials who ran its program in 2003 have since been killed.
From 2010-2012, four Iranian nuclear scientists (Masoud Alimohammadi, Majid Shahriari, Darioush Rezaeinejad and Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan) were assassinated, some by car bomb, some by motorcycle bomb and some gunned down – as it appears occurred with Fakhrizadeh.
Some Israeli intelligence officials believe the killing of Fakhrizadeh, and some of the removal of the other nuclear scientists from the board, might have set back the Islamic Republic even more than the attacks on the facilities.
According to some estimates, the combined toll of these operations has set Iran back years and Tehran has been able to do little to stop the covert interventions.
So if the US and Iran have still not reached a deal in the coming months and the Islamic Republic has neither halted enriching uranium at the high 60% level nor resumed full cooperation with International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, the Mossad has quite a full menu – without the IDF having to drop bombs.
It is expected that Burns’s visit will buy the US some time to negotiate, but when Israel says its patience is not endless, it tends not to be a bluff.