4-3: On Olympic Games and IR-2 Centrifuges

In Chapter 8, I was surprised to read that President Bush considered the cyber-attack his “third option.” Sanger reports that prior to the transfer of power to Obama in 2009, Bush said “the program could mean the difference between peace and war with Iran.” I find this extremely curious, considering the class responses to the Learning Analytics question on cyberwar from week one; we were very divided on the idea of its severity. While “Olympic Games” was intended to remain a secret, we should on one hand ponder difference between Bush’s peace accompanied by cyberwar and, on the other hand, a war with Iran. The peace is clearly preferable; however, it is fascinating to see how Bush and his advisors obviously felt Olympic Games was on a different plane than traditional aggression. The Obama administration agreed, indicated by going through with the plan.


Another interesting item is the very recently reported installation of the new Iranian Centrifuges at Natanz. In addition to the IR-2s, which spin twice as fast as the older version, Iran is adding 2,255 of the older models. In his February 21 article, Sanger implicitly poses an important question: Why install the centrifuges at Natanz, considering it is vulnerable to air strikes as well as a recent victim of “alleged” cyber-attacks? Did Stuxnet do more damage than previously thought? One participant in the Olympic Games program used the following argument for their methods: “We told the Israelis that if you bomb Natanz, it will take the Iranians two years to replace it-but they will do so deep underground; you won’t be able to get it the next time, and you’ll make them want the bomb even more.” Do cyber-attacks have a similar result? With only days to go before international nuclear talks, is Iran upgrading this facility in a defiant response Stuxnet? Does the improved equipment showing they want the bomb (or the capability to produce one quickly) even more now?

While a recent IAEA report shows that Iran has slowed production of Uranium that can be used for weapons, there is only 73kg to go until the Israeli established “red line.” Iran is projected to reach this level early this fall. Even with continued sabotage, interference, new diplomatic initiatives, and sanctions, how much more time can we buy? — Daniel

4 thoughts on “4-3: On Olympic Games and IR-2 Centrifuges

  1. Daniel you raise a very interesting point at the end of your post in regards to how much more time the US can buy before Iran reaches the red line. Even after the Olympic Games operation that cost the US millions of dollars — and as Sanger argued may have even lost the US some of its future leverage against China on issues concerning cyberwarfare — the result was simply a 2-3 year delay at best. Furthermore, this cyberattack was launched against a system that was virtually undefended, which will mean future cyberattacks will be harder to carry out against an expecting target, and that although Iran’s cyber capabilities are quite weak at the moment, they have now a huge incentive to develop cyber defenses and even explore the realms of cyber attacks. In the next half year, will we be able to orchestrate a more effective cyber attack without setting the precedent for a worldwide escalation of cyberwarfare?

  2. Sanger makes a very interesting point when he emphasizes that ‘Rice and Hadley saw Olympic Games as the best bet to forestall an Israeli attack’, a point that I think is of great relevance nowadays given the recent Israeli elections. Could it be that Olympic Games and subsequent other means of cyberwarfare against the nuclear facility at Natanz were all merely a means to buy time not necessarily up until multilateral international action was agreed upon and executed against Iran, nor before this situation escalated into a full out conventional armed conflict, but rather to buy time until elections in Israel brought about a change in Israeli leadership?
    Netanyahu hasn’t been by any means the ideal partner from a US perspective, so I for one believe this was a least a factor for why this approach was chosen by not only one, but multiple US administrations. If we assume this, given Netanyahu’s current post-election struggles (Israel might very well head to the polls again very soon, and centrist former journalist Yair Lapid is now leading the national polls), how can we expect US policy towards Iran to change if indeed Netanyahu is soon ultimately replaced at the head of the Israeli government?

  3. Daniel, you bring up a really interesting point at the end of your post. But I wonder if the question is not so much “how much more time can we buy?” but “how effective is cyber warfare anyway?” Maybe delaying the creation of an Iranian nuclear weapon gave the US and Israel more time to develop alternate solutions, but the knowledge of how to create a nuclear weapon can never be lost. In Chapter 8, Sanger quotes Degan in the efficacy of bombing a nuclear facility: “What Dagan believes is that the key element to building a bomb is the knowledge, and you can’t bomb knowledge”– but doesn’t that same theory apply to cyberwarfare? For no worm can truly ‘eat’ knowledge. Furthermore, as Fred discusses, even if we are delaying the development of an Iranian bomb, our very actions hurt our image abroad, particularly with China, which could have negative long term implications. And perhaps most frighteningly, creating these cyberworms also puts us in harms way from such a similar attack!

  4. The decision to build centrifuges at Natanz, where they are vulnerable to air strikes, perhaps indicates that Iran no longer views air strikes as the main threat to their nuclear facilities. If the main threat is cyber attacks, it doesn’t matter whether the centrifuges are underground or not. The placement of nuclear facilities is not a decision made lightly, so it seems that there has been a significant shift in thinking about security threats.

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