It’s as straightforward as A, B, C. As Iran moves closer and closer to its goal of producing nuclear weapons, Israel moves closer and closer toward striking Iranian nuclear facilities.
The questions are no longer “if” and “when.” The real question now is “how.” How will Israel effectively penetrate deep into Iran and strike at strategic targets? How will Israel either disable or fly under Iranian radar?
While it is true that the cyber war has begun and that both the Stuxnet and duqu worms have significantly disabled Iran’s nuclear program, those are, while quite effective, diversions and stalling techniques. There are still targets that only conventional warplanes can hit. It is almost a certainty that a squadron of Israel’s F-15s and F-16s will be part of an attack on Iran.
The air force planes that take off, maneuver and strike their targets will be piloted by a special group of soldiers highly trained in an area that is rarely spoken about. Based in headquarters located within Israel, these soldiers position their fingers on keyboards and keep their eyes glued to screens. The operation cannot succeed without them and indeed, Israel’s defense and security will be placed in their control.
The success and failure of the F-15s and F-16s will be in hands of the “techies.”
Israel has spent billions of dollars creating and perfecting computer and cyber weapons that effectively permit their planes to reach their targets and prevent the targets from even knowing about, let alone respond to, attack. This new technology will blind jam and render Iran’s surveillance deaf to Israel’s attack. It will prevent communication.
A decade ago there was “the pulse,” an electromagnetic emission that would destroy an enemy’s ability to use technology by burning any computer that was turned on at the moment. It would simply fry them, but it had a downside. The “pulse” was certainly an improvement on the technology that it replaced, but hospitals and civilians were still left to bear the brunt of the attack.
In today’s version of a cyber attack, only the targets are to be paralyzed. Only the cell phones and the Internet systems will be rendered unusable, jammed until Israel turns them back on. It is a much more specific and much more effective method of crippling a country temporarily.
One tool Israel is said to not only have but also to have perfected is a message that invades cell-phone systems seeming to be a routine maintenance signal. The entire phone system is then down for as long as the operator wants it down. Add to that Israel’s arsenal of jammers that can prevent local teams on the ground from communicating electronically in any way, shape or form. The system will be down just as it is during a common, routine, annoying, service-down alert. This will, however, be anything but common or routine — this will be a part of the attack.
In preparing for the inevitable attack, Israel will have at its disposal not only technology, but also intelligence. Israel was given important intelligence obtained by the United States two years ago, intelligence about Iran’s electrical grid. It turns out that the Iranian grid is “air gapped.” That means that the grid is online and is capable at anytime of losing its connection to the Internet and going off grid. That is a serious vulnerability. Israel will almost certainly block all Internet transmission by interceding in the system and denying all service.
The best part is that all of this can be done by a drone— a rather large drone, the size of a 747. Or Israel can use multiple drones. And they can use even smaller drones when they need to get closer to their sources. And the techies positioned somewhere in Israel, in Tel Aviv or in Rehovot, will control the Iranian response to the Israeli assault.
In September 2007, Israel conducted a dry run utilizing some of this technology. The technology has only improved over the past four years. In 2007 the target was a Syrian nuclear facility. Israel successfully and completely fooled Syria’s anti-aircraft computers and radar. The Syrians had no record of Israeli planes while the Israelis were in their airspace. And then, in a single second, Syrian radar showed hundreds of Israeli planes on the attack. By the time Syria became aware of the Israeli aircraft, the three planes that had actually been there — not the hundreds Israel had manipulated the system to think were there — were home free.
Years earlier, on June 7, 1981, Israeli aircraft successfully struck and destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq. Osirak was a relatively simple target, because it sat above ground. Iran learned a lesson from that 1981 attack on Iraq. Iran has most of it nuclear technology underground in subterranean facilities. But with the proper “cyber cover,” Israel will once again be able to strike and successfully destroy.
There are risks. Iranian technology and cyber capabilities are increasing as rapidly as are Israel’s, but in different directions. Israel appears willing to take the risk that is now necessary to keep the world a little safer from nuclear harm. Certainly, Israeli leaders are thinking about their own small country and their own citizens. It is not only Israelis who will benefit from a successful mission. It is only Israelis, however, who will pay the price if the mission falter or fails.
Micah D. Halpern is a columnist and a social and political commentator. His latest book is “Thugs: How History’s Most Notorious Despots Transformed the World through Terror, Tyranny, and Mass Murder” (Thomas Nelson).