Bushehr Iran nuclear facility
Iranian technicians at work at the Bushehr Nuclear Plant in Iran, November 2009. Photo by AP
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A leading expert on Iran advised the United States to use "covert sabotage" rather than military action to destroy the Islamic Republic's nuclear facilities, according to a U.S. embassy cable released by WikiLeaks.

Citing a January 2010 cable dispatched by U.S. Ambassador Philip Murphy, The Guardian reported Wednesday that Germany's state-funded Institute for Security and International Affairs had told U.S. officials that a policy of sabotage would be "more effective" than a military strike in stopping Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.

Volker Perthes, director of the think tank, was referring to actions such as "unexplained explosions, accidents, computer hacking. etc" that would be more "effective than a military strike, whose effects in the region could be devastating", according to the cable.

Earlier cables disclosed by The Guardian show that U.S. officials - including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice - had "distinctly deferred" to Perthes for guidance on Iran-related matters.

In an interview with The Guardian, Perthes confirmed the details of the cable, saying that indeed "'unexplained accidents' or 'computer failures' etc are certainly better than military strikes," adding that "a military escalation with Iran – must be avoided."

"Compared to military action, such acts have the advantage that the leadership of a country that is affected wouldn't need to respond – everybody can agree that there was a technical failure, no one needs to shoot or bomb," he told The Guardian. "And at the same time, everybody has understood the message – about what developments are unacceptable to the other side."

The WikiLeaks cable emerged just days after The New York Times reported that Israel had tested a computer worm believed to have sabotaged Iran's nuclear centrifuges last year and slowed its ability to develop an atomic weapon.

In what the Times described as a joint Israeli-U.S. effort to undermine Iran's nuclear ambitions, it said the tests of the destructive Stuxnet worm had occurred over the past two years at the heavily guarded Dimona complex in the Negev desert.

The newspaper cited unidentified intelligence and military experts familiar with Dimona who said Israel had spun centrifuges virtually identical to those at Iran's Natanz facility, where Iranian scientists are struggling to enrich uranium.
"To check out the worm, you have to know the machines," an American expert on nuclear intelligence told the newspaper". The reason the worm has been effective is that the Israelis tried it out."

Western leaders suspect Iran's nuclear program is a cover to build atomic weapons, but Tehran says it is aimed only at producing electricity.

Iran's centrifuges have been plagued by breakdowns since a rapid expansion of enrichment in 2007 and 2008, and security experts have speculated its nuclear program may have been targeted in a state-backed attack using Stuxnet.