Israel will not attack Iran. At least not in the next few years. It will not attack, first and foremost, because the United States opposes such a move. Israel has never taken any independent step on a strategic issue of global importance without first coordinating or consulting with its allies, or at least without reaching the conclusion that the move would be received favorably in Washington. Israel will not attack Iran because its leadership is divided over the issue, and most decision makers at the operational and political levels, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, are concerned that adventurism could be disastrous.
Israel will not strike because this would mean that Iran, Hezbollah and not unlikely, also Hamas (the chances of Syria joining in are minor), will respond with massive missile barrages targeting population centers and strategic sites - including the Dimona reactor, power plants, military basis and airports.
There is also another reason, which is gradually becoming clearer and bolsters the assessment that an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear installations and support systems (aerial defense, communications, command and control) is not expected in the coming years. Such a strike would be redundant. According to foreign reports, Israeli intelligence, in cooperation with its American counterparts, has made such a strike redundant.
For a few months now, experts around the world have been trying to understand why Iran's nuclear program has been delayed, delays which have primarily manifested themselves in the partial shutdown of centrifuges at the Natanz facility. Until about 18 months ago, Iran had some 10,000 active centrifuges there. Now, according to the reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, only 4,000 of them are operational.
The P-1 model of centrifuges are old and tend to become damaged; their operation requires staff with excellent technical skills. Even American experts who tried to master the P-1, according to The New York Times, ran into difficulties, in part because of its relatively primitive design.
However, according to the Times report yesterday, the ones who did succeed in getting the centrifuges to work were teams of experts from the Israel Atomic Energy Commission and Israeli intelligence. They had set up a model of the Natanz installation at the Dimona plant and learned how the centrifuges worked. This enabled hi-tech experts from Israeli intelligence to put together a sophisticated program known as the Stuxnet Worm, which was then inserted into the control and operation systems of the Natanz facility. The program entered the computer networks, took over the systems operating the machinery (manufactured by the German firm Siemens), and caused serious damage to the centrifuges. According to the report, as many as a fifth of the centrifuges have become inoperable as a result.
There are disagreements over the extent of the damage inflicted on Tehran's nuclear program by the worm and other sabotage efforts which have been attributed to Western, including Israeli, intelligence services - such as the establishment of shell companies that sold flawed equipment to Iran. Meir Dagan, who recently stepped down from heading the Mossad, and who is considered to be primarily responsible for this sabotage work, can proudly announce that Iran's ability to develop nuclear weapons has now been pushed back and will not manifest itself before 2015.
However long the delay may be, it is clear that it has given Israel and the West some breathing room. Experts in the United States and Europe have assessed, on the basis of knowledge of the air force's capabilities, that even the most successful strike would have delayed the Iranian nuclear program no more than three years - and this does not even take into account the number of pilots who would not have come home from the mission. The intelligence operation that has been attributed to Israel achieved this delay without any casualties or complications.
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