Aircraft are not the only means at Israel’s disposal

November 22, 2011

* Past operations by Israel, such as the 1981 bombing of Iraq’s Osirak atomic reactor and a similar strike against Syria in 2007, suggest a strategy of one-off pinpoint raids, due both to military limitations and a desire to avoid wider war.

* Israel would be loath to hit Iranian energy assets, like oil production and shipping facilities. This could stoke a spike in oil prices, turning world opinion against Israel while alienating the Iranian dissident movement.

* For much of the last decade, as Iran methodically built its nuclear program, Israel has been assembling a multibillion-dollar array of high-tech weapons that would allow it to jam, blind, and deafen Tehran’s defenses in the case of a pre-emptive aerial strike.

* Israel has developed a weapon capable of mimicking a maintenance cellphone signal that commands a cell network to “sleep,” effectively stopping transmissions.

* In a 2007 attack on a suspected nuclear site at al-Kibar, the Syrian military got a taste of this warfare when Israeli planes “spoofed” the country’s air-defense radars, at first making it appear that no jets were in the sky and then in an instant making the radar believe the sky was filled with hundreds of planes.

* “We are in the initial phase of fighting the Duqu virus,” Gholamreza Jalali, the head of Iran’s civil defense organization, told the official IRNA news agency. “The final report on which organizations the virus has spread to and what its impacts are has not been completed yet.

 

CONTENTS

1. “Blast victim ‘was bomb expert working to hit Israel’” (The Times of London, Nov. 17, 2011)
2. “How will Israel attack Iran?’ (Reuters news agency, Nov. 9, 2011)
3. “Israel’s secret Iran attack plan: electronic warfare” (By Eli Lake, Daily Beast / Newsweek, Nov. 16, 2011)
4. “Iran trains Gazans to operate anti-tank missiles” (By Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 17, 2011)
5. Iran admits second computer virus hit nuke program (Homeland Security News, Nov. 18, 2011)

 

[Note by Tom Gross]

This dispatch concerns Iran. It was compiled a few days ago, but delayed because of illness.

It is split in two for space reasons. The other part can be read here: This may be the most unsurprising sneak attack in history.

I attach five articles below.

 

“AT LEAST 36 REVOLUTIONARY GUARD MEMBERS DIED IN THE EXPLOSION, NOT 17 AS FIRST REPORTED”

Blast victim ‘was bomb expert working to hit Israel’
By Michael Evans and Hugh Tomlinson
The Times of London
November 17. 2011

The explosion that killed an Iranian ballistic missiles expert at a military base on Saturday occurred during testing on a new weapons programme to strike Israel, Tehran claimed yesterday.

Hassan Firouzabadi, the chief of staff for Iran’s armed forces, dismissed reports that a covert operation by Israel was behind the blast that killed General Hassan Moghaddam, architect of Iran’s missile programme since the 1980s, and at least 35 other members of the Revolutionary Guard.

“This recent incident and blast has no link to Israel or America but was the outcome of research … [which] will deliver a strong smack to the mouth of Israel and its occupying regime,” he said.

Mr. Firouzabadi claimed that the explosion had delayed the “new product” under development at the base by only two weeks, and warned that “Israelis should prepare for explosions throughout Israel”.

He put the death toll in the blast at 17, but a painstaking compilation of reports of funerals in Iranian news agencies over the past few days has suggested the real figure was double this, with 36 names confirmed so far.

The Alghadir base was known to contain a silo for Iran’s Shahab-3 missiles, which have a range of about 1,250 miles, sufficient to hit Israel. Tehran insists the explosion was an accident, while Western reports have suggested that sabotage by Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad, was responsible.

Whether the blast was an accident or not, the ruling elite has been devastated by the loss of Mr. Moghaddam, a close confidant of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader.

Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf, the Mayor of Tehran, summed up the desolate mood yesterday, describing the general as “irreplaceable”. He added: “Martyrdom was Hassan’s right, but the news of it was shocking … His efforts and hard work had created such a fear in the heart of the enemies that until today they haven’t had the courage to attack this country.”

The blast at the Alghadir base, south-west of Tehran, was so powerful that it shook windows in the capital 25 miles away.

Israel has not taken credit for the explosion but Israeli politicians have made no effort to disguise their delight at seeing Iran’s missile programme decapitated.

With speculation again mounting over a possible strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, the US Air Force yesterday confirmed that it had taken delivery of a 30,000lb bunker-busting bomb called Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), developed by Boeing.

It will be carried by the B52 and the B2 Stealth bomber and will be capable of destroying 60ft (18m) of concrete, and has been designed to penetrate 200ft underground before exploding.

The Pentagon has contingency plans to use both the US Air Force and the US Navy for strikes in Iran. Robert Gates, former US Defence Secretary, confirmed earlier this year that any operation against Iran would not involve ground troops.

The delivery of the first MOP, dubbed Big Blu, which is more than 20ft long and contains about 5,300lb of explosives, fills an acknowledged gap in the US arsenal of deep-penetration weapons.

After Congress rejected President George W. Bush’s request to develop a bunker-busting weapon with a nuclear warhead, Boeing was asked to develop a conventional weapon capable of breaching potential enemy targets buried deep underground, such as Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons facilities. The B2 will be able to carry two MOPs.

Israel does not possess a bomb with such penetrating capacity, and one American expert, General Charles Wald, former commander of US Central Command Air Forces, said an Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities would require about 1,000 flights to be successful.

 

HOW WILL ISRAEL ATTACK IRAN?

How will Israel attack Iran?
Reuters
November 9, 2011

Analysts examine ways Israel could carry out strike against Iran, issue warning: Losing tactical edge of initial sneak attack will make it hard to keep up precision strikes

***

Should the Israelis attack Iran, they would probably focus strikes on select nuclear facilities while trying to avoid killing civilians en masse or crippling the oil sector.

Past operations by Israel, such as the 1981 bombing of Iraq’s Osirak atomic reactor and a similar strike against Syria in 2007, suggest a strategy of one-off pinpoint raids, due both to military limitations and a desire to avoid wider war.

“It (Israel) has the capability to get there, and it has the capability to do serious damage to the Iranian nuclear program,” said Sam Gardiner, a retired US air force colonel who has run war games for various Washington agencies and academic forums.

Israel remains publicly committed to the US-led big power strategy of diplomacy and punitive sanctions to get the Iranians to curb their uranium enrichment and ensure it is for peaceful purposes only.

But the specter of unilateral Israeli strikes resurfaced with the publication on Tuesday of charges by UN inspectors of a possible military dimension to Iran’s nuclear project.

Israel lacks heavy long-range air force bombers, but its advanced F-15 and F-16 warplanes could hit sites in western Iran and further inland with air-to-air refueling and by using stealth technology to overfly hostile Arab nations.

Israel attacked Iraq and Syria before their alleged nuclear weapons projects had yielded fissile material that could end up as toxic debris. Similarly, analysts say, it would try to avoid an Iranian death toll that would fuel public calls for revenge.

CONTROL ESCALATION

A 2009 simulation at the Brookings Institution in Washington theorized that Israel, intent on halting or hobbling what the West suspects is Tehran’s covert quest for the means to make atomic weaponry, would launch a sneak pre-emptive attack on half-a-dozen nuclear sites in Iran.

Israel would not want to risk drawing in Iranian allies like Hezbollah, Hamas or Syria, especially with political upheaval shaking US-aligned Gulf Arabs and Egypt. Israel’s armed forces are geared for brief border wars, not prolonged open conflict.

TERRIFIC OPPORTUNITY

“Israel would most likely begin efforts to control escalation immediately after the strike,” said Gardiner, who posits Iranian retaliation could compel the United States – perhaps by Israeli design – to weigh in with its superior arms.

Facing recrimination from allies like the United States, Israel might argue the strike “created a terrific opportunity for the West to pressure Iran, weaken it, and possibly even undermine the regime”, said the Brookings simulation summary.

Aircraft are not the only means at Israel’s disposal.

It could also launch ballistic Jericho missiles with conventional warheads at Iran, according to a 2009 report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Israel’s three German-built Dolphin submarines are believed to be capable of carrying conventional and nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. They would have to transit through Egypt’s Suez Canal – as one did in 2009 – to reach the Gulf.

Elite foot soldiers might be deployed to spot targets and possibly launch covert attacks. Far-flying drones could assist in surveillance and possibly drop bombs of their own.

Israel has also been developing “cyber warfare” capabilities and could use this together with other sabotage by Mossad spies on the ground.

BLOWBACK

Israel would be loath to hit Iranian energy assets, like oil production and shipping facilities. This could stoke a spike in oil prices, turning world opinion against Israel while alienating the Iranian dissident movement.

The same would follow a large Iranian death toll, though civilian infrastructure might not be spared.

Gardiner said the Israelis, like the US air force during the Serbia campaign of 1999, might fry Iran’s electricity grids by dropping carbon fibers on its exposed power lines.

“Israel knows that an attack on Iran, no matter how much evidence to show that Iran is on the cusp of acquiring nuclear weapons that could kill large numbers of Israelis if it chooses, would cause an international outcry,” said Richard Kemp, a retired British army colonel who has studied Israeli doctrines.

“It is very much in Israel’s interest to take every possible precaution to make it as precise and effective as possible (and) do everything to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties.”

But escalation might be impossible to avoid.

LOSING TACTICAL EDGE

Should Iran retaliate with Shehab missile launches against Tel Aviv, for example, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would find it hard not to strike back. It would need outside assurances that the Shehab salvoes would stop – say, through a US military enlistment against Iran, or a truce.

After losing the tactical edge of the initial sneak attack, Israeli forces would find it hard to keep up precision strikes.

Iran would be on alert for hostile warplanes, submarines and commandos. Iraq, Turkey or Saudi Arabia – countries which a 2006 study by the Massachusetts Institutes of Technology envisaged Israeli warplanes overflying en route to Iran – would shut down their air space.

The Israeli public would chafe at losing troops and living in bomb shelters. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in rare remarks on such a sensitive subject, said on Tuesday he saw the home front suffering “maybe not even 500 dead”.

In such a situation, Israel might rely increasingly on “stand-off” weaponry such as the Jerichos, which Jane’s missile experts believe are accurate only to around 1,000 yards (meters). This could mean more damage to Iran’s civilian infrastructure, including the lifeblood energy sector.

 

ISRAEL’S SECRET IRAN ATTACK PLAN: ELECTRONIC WARFARE

Israel’s Secret Iran Attack Plan: Electronic Warfare
By Eli Lake
Daily Beast / Newsweek
November 16, 2011

Israel has been building stealthy, multibillion-dollar electronic weapons that could be deployed if Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear sites, U.S. intelligence officials tell Eli Lake.

***

For much of the last decade, as Iran methodically built its nuclear program, Israel has been assembling a multibillion-dollar array of high-tech weapons that would allow it to jam, blind, and deafen Tehran’s defenses in the case of a pre-emptive aerial strike.

A U.S. intelligence assessment this summer, described to The Daily Beast by current and former U.S. intelligence officials, concluded that any Israeli attack on hardened nuclear sites in Iran would go far beyond airstrikes from F-15 and F-16 fighter planes and likely include electronic warfare against Iran’s electric grid, Internet, cellphone network, and emergency frequencies for firemen and police officers.

For example, Israel has developed a weapon capable of mimicking a maintenance cellphone signal that commands a cell network to “sleep,” effectively stopping transmissions, officials confirmed. The Israelis also have jammers capable of creating interference within Iran’s emergency frequencies for first responders.

In a 2007 attack on a suspected nuclear site at al-Kibar, the Syrian military got a taste of this warfare when Israeli planes “spoofed” the country’s air-defense radars, at first making it appear that no jets were in the sky and then in an instant making the radar believe the sky was filled with hundreds of planes.

Israel also likely would exploit a vulnerability that U.S. officials detected two years ago in Iran’s big-city electric grids, which are not “air-gapped” – meaning they are connected to the Internet and therefore vulnerable to a Stuxnet-style cyberattack – officials say.

A highly secretive research lab attached to the U.S. joint staff and combatant commands, known as the Joint Warfare Analysis Center (JWAC), discovered the weakness in Iran’s electrical grid in 2009, according to one retired senior military intelligence officer. This source also said the Israelis have the capability to bring a denial-of-service attack to nodes of Iran’s command and control system that rely on the Internet.

Tony Decarbo, the executive officer for JWAC, declined comment for this story. The likely delivery method for the electronic elements of this attack would be an unmanned aerial vehicle the size of a jumbo jet. An earlier version of the bird was called the Heron, the latest version is known as the Eitan. According to the Israeli press, the Eitan can fly for 20 straight hours and carry a payload of one ton. Another version of the drone, however, can fly up to 45 straight hours, according to U.S. and Israeli officials.

Unmanned drones have been an integral part of U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, gathering intelligence and firing missiles at suspected insurgents. But Israel’s fleet has been specially fitted for electronic warfare, according to officials.

“They would have to take out radar and anti-aircraft. They could also attack with missiles and their drone fleet.”

The Eitans and Herons would also likely be working with a special Israeli air force unit known as the Sky Crows, which focuses only on electronic warfare. A 2010 piece in The Jerusalem Post quoted the commander of the electronic warfare unit as saying, “Our objective is to activate our systems and to disrupt and neutralize the enemy’s systems.”

Fred Fleitz, who left his post this year as a Republican senior staffer who focused on Iran at the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said in his meetings with Israeli defense and intelligence officials, they would always say all options were on the table.

“I think Israel has the capabilities with their air force and mid-air refueling to take on these sites,” said Fleitz, who is now managing editor of Lignet.com. “They would have to take out radar and anti-aircraft. They could also attack with missiles and their drone fleet.”

Whatever Israel ultimately decides to do about Iran’s program, one mission for now is clear. A senior Israeli official told The Daily Beast this month that one important objective of Israel’s political strategy on Iran was to persuade Iranian decision makers that a military strike against their nuclear infrastructure was a very real possibility. “The only known way to stop a nuclear program is to have smashing sanctions with a credible military threat. Libya is the best example of this,” this official said.

At the same time, if past practice is any guide, the Israelis would not likely strike at the same moment that their officials are discussing the prospect in the press. In other words, if Israel is openly discussing a military strike, it is unlikely to be imminent.

But if Israel goes radio silent – like it did in when it attacked a suspected nuclear site in Iraq in 1981 – that may be an early warning sign that a strike is nearing.

When Sam Lewis was U.S. ambassador to Israel during the transition from the Carter to Reagan administrations, he warned the new administration there was a chance then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin might bomb the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq.

“I had given a full alert to the new administration about the dangers,” Lewis recalled in an interview. “We’d been having discussions with the Israelis about how they wanted to stop the project, there was a lot of news and then it all dried up.”

Lewis and his staff had moved on. Then without warning on June 7, 1981, in something called Operation Opera, Israeli jets flew in the dead of night via Jordanian air space and incinerated the nuclear facility that was under construction southeast of Baghdad. “I did feel after the fact that we should have assumed this bombing was going to take place,” Lewis said. “After it was over, I was not surprised, I was annoyed by having been misled by the quiet as it were.”

There may be a lesson for the Obama administration as it tries to calibrate what Israel will do on Iran. Since taking office, the president has made major efforts to avoid any surprises in the relationship with Israel, particularly on the issue of Iran. Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for example, tasked their first national security advisers to establish an unprecedented system for regular consultation between the two countries, featuring regular video-teleconferences.

They formed a standing committee on Iran as well, to check the progress of sanctions, share intelligence, and keep both sides informed. Despite all of this, Netanyahu has refused to give any assurance to Obama or his top cabinet advisers that he would inform or ask permission before launching an attack on Iran that would likely spur the Iranians to launch a terrorist attack on the United States or Israel in response, according to U.S. and Israeli officials familiar with these meetings. The Telegraph first reported the tension over the weekend.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta “expressed the desire for consultation on any contemplated future Israeli military action, and [Ehud] Barak understood the U.S. position,” said one official familiar with the discussions.

The Israelis may be coy this time around because of the experience of then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. In 2007, the Israelis presented what they considered to be rock-solid evidence that Syria was building a covert nuclear facility at al-Kibar. They asked President Bush to bomb the facility, according to the new memoir from Condoleezza Rice.

“The president decided against a strike and suggested a diplomatic course to the Israeli prime minister,” she wrote. “Ehud Olmert thanked us for our input but rejected our advice, and the Israelis then expertly did the job themselves.”

One American close to the current prime minister said, “When Netanyahu came into office, the understanding was they will not make the same mistake that Olmert made and ask for something the president might say no to. Better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.”

 

IRAN TRAINS GAZANS TO OPERATE ANTI-TANK MISSILES

Iran trains Gazans to operate anti-tank missiles
IDF believes select group of Palestinian terrorists have undergone extensive military training in Islamic Republic.
By Yaakov Katz
The Jerusalem Post
November 17, 2011

A select group of Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip have undergone extensive military training recently in Iran, turning them into expert operators of sophisticated anti-tank missiles, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

The IDF believes that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have obtained several hundred advanced Russian-made antitank missiles – such as the Kornet and the Fagot – which have a range of more than 4 kilometers and are capable of penetrating armored personnel carriers and some IDF tanks.

Terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip had a small number of these missiles ahead of Operation Cast Lead – Israel’s offensive against Hamas in 2009 – but only used them in a handful of known instances.

“They were not trained well then, and as a result, the missiles were not effective,” a senior IDF officer explained this week. “Since then, the groups have significantly increased the stockpile and have also sent specific terrorists to Iran for extensive training where they became anti-tank missile experts.”

The level of expertise was demonstrated earlier this year when Hamas fired a Kornet anti-tank missile at a school bus near Nahal Oz, which killed 16-year-old Daniel Viflic.

The missile was fired from a distance of close to 3 kilometers and the operator had to fire in between the Gaza security fence and electrical cables. “He also had to hit the bus, which was not easily seen on the road,” the officer said, explaining the complexities of the attack as a demonstration of the level of expertise in Gaza.

The anti-tank missiles are obtained by Hamas in several different ways. In some cases, they are purchased directly from Russia by Syria and are then transferred to Hamas or Hezbollah.

In other cases, Hamas operatives buy the weaponry on the black market and then smuggle it into the Gaza Strip via the tunnels it maintains under the Philadelphi Corridor.

“The Gaza Strip is completely different today than what it was almost three years ago,” a senior defense official said. “The amounts of weaponry are significantly higher as well as the type of weaponry and its sophistication.”

In face of the threat, the IDF is moving forward with plans to install the Trophy active protection system on Merkava Mk 4 tanks that are in production ahead of their delivery to the 401st Armored Brigade. Two of the brigade’s battalions have already received the system and the remaining battalion will finish receiving it by the beginning of 2012.

The Trophy system creates a hemispheric protected zone around armored vehicles such as the Merkava tank, which operated prominently in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

Using advanced radar, the system is designed to detect and track a threat and counters it with a launched projectile that intercepts the anti-tank missile.

 

ANOTHER COMPUTER VIRUS HIT IRANIAN NUCLEAR PROGRAM

Cyber warfare: Duqu mystery deepens as Iran admits infection
Homeland Security News
November 18, 2011

www.homelandsecuritynewswire.com/dr20111118-duqu-mystery-deepens-as-iran-admits-infection

Iran recently revealed that the Duqu virus, a possible pre-cursor to a Stuxnet-like attack, has been discovered in its computer network; “We are in the initial phase of fighting the Duqu virus,” said Gholamreza Jalali, the head of Iran’s civil defense program

Iran recently revealed that the Duqu virus, a possible pre-cursor to a Stuxnet-like attack, has been discovered in its computer network.

“We are in the initial phase of fighting the Duqu virus,” said Gholamreza Jalali, the head of Iran’s civil defense program. “The final report which says which organizations the virus has spread to and what its impacts are has not been completed yet.” Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency reported that Iran has developed anti-virus software to combat the virus and according to Jalali, “all the organizations and centers that could be susceptible to being contaminated are being controlled.”

News of Duqu was first released in October by the cybersecurity company Symantec. The virus contains code similar to Stuxnet, the computer worm that reportedly crippled Iran’s nuclear program by attacking industrial control systems used to operate its centrifuges.

Symantec says that while Stuxnet was designed to cause direct damage to Iran’s nuclear program, Duqu is different in that it gathers data that could be used for a future attack. In a report issued last month, the company stated,” Duqu is essentially the precursor to a future Stuxnet-like attack. Instead of being designed to sabotage an industrial control system, the new virus is designed to gain remote access capabilities.”

The virus accomplishes its goal by exploiting a “zero-day vulnerability,” or a previously undiscovered security loophole, in Microsoft Word. It utilizes a separate piece of malware known as a “dropper” to infect computers through a font embedded in a Word document.

Stuxnet utilized four such vulnerabilities, an unprecedented feat which led experts to speculate that the worm was created by hackers with government backing. It is widely believed that Israel’s Mossad as well as the United States military was responsible for the cyberattack.

Further analysis into Duqu reveals that its creators have a sense of humor. According to the Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab, the e-mail which infected an unnamed company with Duqu in April was sent by a Mr. B. Jason, an apparent reference to the Jason Bourne spy novels by Robert Ludlum.

Additionally in one of the virus’ strings of code is the phrase “Copyright 2003 Showtime Inc. All rights reserved. Dexter Regular version 1.00. Dexter is a registered trademark of Showtime Inc.” Dexter Regular is the name of the font used to exploit targeted systems. Dexter is a television series about a CSI doctor who is also a serial killer.

Iran has claimed that Duqu is the third piece of malware to strike the country. In April, Iranian officials said they had detected a virus, dubbed “Stars,” in its networks.

Kaspersky believes that Stars might actually be a product of Duqu. Just prior to the Iranian announcement, an unnamed company was contaminated with Duqu through an infected e-mail.

According to Alexander Gostev, the head of the Global Research and Analysis team at Kaspersky, “most probably, the Iranians found a keylogger module that had been loaded onto a system,” he wrote. “It’s possible that the Iranian specialists found just the keylogger, while the main Duqu module and the dropper (including the documents that contained the then-unknown vulnerability) may have gone undetected.”

Symantec believes that attacks using Duqu may have begun as early as December 2010.

Subsequent research into the virus by Kaspersky found discovered drivers in the Duqu code compiled as far back as 2007.

“If this information is correct, then the authors of Duqu must have been working on this project for over four years!” said Gostev.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.