Foreign Policy Blogs

Centrifugal Sabotage

Daniel Drezner theorizes that the U.S.’s covert operation to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program is going well and has led to U.S.-Israeli agreement on eschewing preventive strikes against Iran.

I think he’s right.

Drezner was responding to the New York Times article published in the wake of Jeffrey Goldberg’s Atlantic article. Goldberg reported an apparent consensus among Israeli policymakers that there is a greater than 50% chance that Israel will bomb Iran next year.  The Times reported that the Obama administration had convinced Israel otherwise.  The U.S. believes it will take Iran a year to build a bomb from the moment it decides to do so (if it ever decides to do so) and weapons inspectors should be able to detect the move toward breakout within weeks.

The Times article makes passing mention of the U.S.’s covert program.  The sentence about it is buried in the middle of a paragraph toward the end.  See if you can spot it:

Some of Iran’s enrichment problems appear to have external origins. Sanctions have made it more difficult for Iran to obtain precision parts and specialty metals. Moreover, the United States, Israel and Europe have for years engaged in covert attempts to disrupt the enrichment process by sabotaging the centrifuges. Officials concede there are potential vulnerabilities in their assessments. Chief among them is whether Iran has hidden another enrichment center somewhere in the tunnels it has dug throughout the country, including some near Natanz.

And when we look at how the Bush administration convinced Israel not to bomb Iran, we find this:

President Bush deflected a secret request by Israel last year for specialized bunker-busting bombs it wanted for an attack on Iran’s main nuclear complex and told the Israelis that he had authorized new covert action intended to sabotage Iran’s suspected effort to develop nuclear weapons, according to senior American and foreign officials.

This program was handed off to Obama when he assumed office.  It is reasonable to assume that it is still playing a significant role in U.S. and Israeli assessments of the situation.