Analysis // by Ben Frankel"Whoever needs to know, knows": Israel intensifies covert campaign against Iran

Published 30 November 2010

Israel believes that the best guarantee of its security is the ability to maintain its regional nuclear monopoly; to that end, it used covert means to stop the nuclear weapons programs of Egypt (1960-63) and Iraq (1970s-1980s); it also used less covert means, such as attacking and destroying nuclear reactors in Iraq (1981) and Syria (2007); if the past is an indication, Israel will see to it that Iran, too, will find its effort to acquire the bomb to be prohibitively costly, very painful — and, ultimately, futile

The Israeli campaign to slow down, if not stop altogether, the Iranian nuclear weapons program is consistent with Israel’s approach to the issue of whether or not neighboring countries should be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons.

The Israeli campaign against Iran’s nuclear ambitions has been going on for a while (for an authoritative account, see Ronen Bergman, The Secret War with Iran: The 30-Year Clandestine Struggle Against the World’s Most Dangerous Terrorist Power [2009]). It has gained momentum in mid-2008, after the George W. Bush administration deflected a secret request by Israel for specialized bunker-busting bombs Israel wanted for an attack on Iran’s main nuclear complex. Bush told the Israelis that he had authorized new covert action intended to sabotage Iran’s effort to develop nuclear weapons (the New York Times’s David Sanger broke the story in January 2009). The Israelis were not happy with the White House rejection of their request for the special munitions, and partly as a result of the tense exchanges, the White House stepped up intelligence-sharing with Israel and briefed Israeli officials on new American efforts subtly to sabotage Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

Bush handed off this major, and growing, covert program to President Barack Obama.

With the United States hesitating about a direct military attack on Iran — and with U.S. refusal to give Israel certain specialized munitions to make an Israeli attack easier — Israel stepped up its own campaign.

It should come as no surprise to our readers that Israel has embarked on its own campaign of covert action to derail Iran’s accelerating nuclear weapons program. Indeed, Israel is experienced in such actions. Here is a sample of Israel’s actions (see “What’s past is prologue: Israel’s covert campaign against Iran’s nuclear program,” 11 June 2009 HSNW)