A week ago, on Oct. 6, an unmanned Iranian aerial vehicle with stealth attributes breached Israeli air space. By eluding Israel’s radar, the UAV exposed serious gaps in its air defenses. Thursday, Oct. 11, Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah admitting the drone had come from Lebanon, promised it would not be the last. He seemed to be mocking Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his reliance on strong border fences to keep Israel safe.
A week went by and Saturday, Oct. 13, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) website quoted its chief, Lt. Gen. Ali Jabari as stating that his naval and missile forces are on “strategic deterrent readiness” – a novel term just invented by the Islamic Republic. He spoke Friday at an army base in Khorrasan, during a tour with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Iranian general hinted that the Iranian-Hizballah drone had been able to come close to Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona.
Both admissions that Iran and Hizballah were conducting military cyber warfare on Israel were tinged with contempt, arising from the certainty that Israel would not retaliate for the UAV’s invasion any more than it had responded to the posting of thousands of Iranian elite Al Qods troops just across its Syrian and Lebanese borders.
Shortly after Nasrallah spoke, the US Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan managed to break through VP Joe Biden’s interruptions to reveal the stark fact that Iran already possesses enough fissile material to make five nuclear bombs. The cat was finally out of the bag after years in which American and Israeli leaders contrived to keep this secret dark by verbal acrobatics and blinding showers of impenetrable “facts and figures.”
It was no slip of the tongue: Mitt Romney’s running mate was briefed by the team which is preparing the candidate himself for his second debate against President Barack Obama next Tuesday, Oct. 16.
DEBKAfile’s Washington sources disclose that the team is headed by the former US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, who is slated for the job of National Security Adviser if Romney wins the Nov. 6 election.
Ryan’s revelation implied that a Romney administration’s Iran policy would take off from the point of its possession of sufficient fissile material for a nuclear arsenal.
Not that this guarantees US military action against Iran’s nuclear program under a new president - or even backing for an Israeli strike - only that now we all know that it is not necessary to destroy the 20 or more Iranian nuclear sites to demolish its program, only to home in on the stockpile of fissile material which took Tehran 20 years to enrich and accumulate.
The Iranians, realizing their secret was out, are certainly not hiding their precious fissile stockpile of approximately one ton at the Fordo nuclear enrichment plant which continues to turn out more enriched uranium. This stock encased in a lead container no bigger than a large kitchen table could be concealed anywhere in the vast 1.6 million-square-kilometer area of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
So a fleet of bombers and array of bunker buster bombs have become dispensable for pre-empting Iran’s nuclear bomb aspirations. All that is needed is one missile – provided of course that the vital core stock can be located.
Also on Thursday, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta unveiled his “pre-9/11 moment” speech which revealed that for two weeks, hackers had been hammering the websites of big American banks, the Saudi national oil company Aramco and Qatar’s Rasgas.
In a strong comment, he said the US would strike back and consider a preemptive strike against cyber terrorism, without saying how or actually naming Iran.
However in leaks to the American media, former U.S. government officials and cyber-security experts reported that the administration believes Iranian-based hackers were responsible for what Panetta warned could be the first “cyber Pearl Harbor” against America.
The Wall Street Journal pointed to a team of 100 Iranian experts as the perpetrators of the cyber attacks on America and the Gulf oil states.
Tehran appears to be sending a message that if US-led sanctions continue to cut down its oil exports and restrict its banking business, Gulf oil producers and American banks would pay the price.
Panetta’s words may therefore be read as Washington’s final warning to Iran to desist from cyber warfare.
In the days leading up to his speech on cyber-terror, the defense secretary was tireless in cautioning against the menace of the Syrian civil war spreading to neighboring countries and evoking Bashar Assad’s threat to bring out and use his chemical weapons.
Before he turned to the cyber threat, the Syrian war had indeed tipped over into an escalating Turkish-Syrian showdown.
Both these developments mean that the waves of Middle East violence are lapping ever farther afield. All the parties with an interest in stirring up trouble are keeping a weather eye on the Obama-Romney debate next Tuesday to see if the president recovers the momentum he lost to his Republican challenger in the first debate.
Before or after the debate, each of them - Al Qaeda, Iran, Syria or Hizballah - is capable of taking direct action to show it is a player to be reckoned with. Such action may explicitly target an American interest or stir the pot by going for Israel, Turkey, Jordan, or a Gulf oil nation.
It can no longer be denied that Tehran is already on a cyber offensive against them all. In the absence of any response, Iran may decide to push further against its targets.