The New York Times is reporting that over the past two years, Dimona—the Israeli centre for nuclear research—has taken on a new and secret role as a critical testing ground in a U.S.-Israeli effort to undermine Iran’s efforts at acquiring nuclear weapons. They say Dimona tested the effectiveness of the Stuxnet computer worm, perhaps the most sophisticated cyberweapon ever deployed, and that the worm appears to have broken roughly a fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. This has helped delay, though not destroy, Tehran’s ability to make its first nuclear weapon. “To check out the worm, you have to know the machines,” said an American expert on nuclear intelligence. “The reason the worm has been effective is that the Israelis tried it out.” According to anonymous intelligence and military experts, Israel has spun nuclear centrifuges that are virtually identical to Iran’s at Natanz, where Iranian scientists are attempting to enrich uranium.
Both American and Israeli officials refuse to talk publicly about these operations. But the efforts at Dimona illustrate the extent of joint American-Israeli collaboration to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program. Right now, questions remain about who designed the Stuxnet work, since it appears to have several authors working on multiple continents. But what is known is that the worm was designed to send nuclear centrifuges in Iran spinning out of control. The computer program also secretly recorded what normal operations at the nuclear plant looked like, then played those readings back to plant operators so that it would appear that everything was operating normally while the centrifuges were actually destroying themselves. Though the attacks were not fully successful—some parts of Iran’s operations were disabled, while others survived—it’s not clear the attacks are over. Some experts say the code contains the seeds for yet more versions and assaults.