Smashing Iran’s nuclear program
The Middle East is witnessing a new form of kinetic cyber warfare smashing Iran’s nuclear program. Dr.
Stephen Bryen, former Reagan era Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Technology and Security,
noted military technologist and Asia Times columnist calls it “Son of Stuxnet”. That is a reference to the
joint US-Israel malworm virus attack in 2009 -2010 on the Natanz enriched uranium cascade facility that
destroyed an estimated 1,000 of 5,000 centrifuges. Bryen thinks that a lot more could have been done
with the original Stuxnet program, if the Obama Administration had not opted for the 2015 JCPOA deal.
The difference this time was the cyber-attacks may have generated explosions.
Natanz was hit on July 2, 2020 by an explosion that destroyed the equipment and facilities for producing
the current generation of advanced centrifuges. That according to David Albright of the Washington, DC-
based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) may have set back Iran’s nuclear weapons
development by 2 plus years and even longer.
Bryen said that this round of cyber kinetic warfare was initiated when Iran cyberattacked Israel’s water
supply system on April 24 and 25, 2020. The water facility attack was intended to release large amounts
of poisonous chlorine into Israel’s water delivery infrastructure, potentially poisoning tens of thousands
of Israelis. Israel responded by temporarily disabled the Iranian Shahid Rajaee port (Bandar Abbas) in the
Straits of Hormuz.”
More explosive events followed in late June and the first three weeks of July. Bryen noted some of these
• On June 26, a building in the solid fuel assembly plant of the Khojir Missile facility, which also deals
with nuclear warhead designs, exploded with such force that it was seen 70 Kms. away. At the same
time, an explosion and fire destroyed the power plant servicing the city of Shiraz, plunging it into
• On June 30, explosions ripped through the sub-basement levels of the Sina medical center in Tehran
• On July 2, an explosion, claimed by an unknown opposition group, the Panthers of the Nation, ripped
apart the new centrifuge assembly building in the Natanz nuclear center. The Iranian regime has all but
admitted this is a major setback to its enrichment program. The same night, a major complex exploded
and burned in Shiraz.
• On July 3, an enormous fire erupted in the northwest part of Shiraz in an unknown location and
facility. The same night, another large fire destroyed an unknown facility in Salmas near Tehran.
• On July 4, a fire and explosion in southwest Iran in the predominantly Sunni Arab province of Ahvaz
destroyed the power plant. At about the same time, the Karoun Petrochemical plant failed and released
what was claimed to be chlorine gas sending about six dozen to the hospital.
• Early on July 7, a powerful explosion engulfed a warehouse or factory of unknown use in Beqarshahr
south of Tehran. This is the same vicinity in which the Israelis two years ago seized Iran’s nuclear
archives, namely Turouzabad- Kahrizak, and in which Israel and the IAEA suspect also was a major
See the Seth Frantzman graphic at the head of this article for locations of fires and explosions in Iran
through July 19, 2020.
Bryen said the most significant cyber kinetic attack was against the Natanz centrifuge production facility.
That was borne out in the post attack damage assessment made by ISIS. It concluded: “Although the
explosion and fire at the Iran Centrifuge Assembly Center does not eliminate Iran’s ability to deploy
advanced centrifuges, its destruction must be viewed as a major setback to Iran’s ability to deploy
advanced centrifuges on a mass scale for years to come. “This was a crown jewel of their program,”
Albright of ISIS said in an interview with Eli Lake.
The implications are significant. Note what renowned Middle East Expert David Wurmser said in a
Bloomberg article by Eli Lake: “The more Iran’s government looks impotent, and the impression is left
the Israelis are everywhere, the more high-level Iranian officials will calibrate their survival by
cooperating with Americans or Israelis, which itself creates an intelligence bonanza”.
Here are some of the takeaways from the Bryen interview.
Vulnerability of Israeli and US Critical Infrastructure.
US and Israeli water, power, petroleum and gas processing, and manufacturing systems rely on the use
of the (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) SCADA systems which are vulnerable to cyber-attack.
In 2016, Iran cyber warriors attacked controls on a water dam reservoir in suburban Westchester
County, New York. Attacks on the national electrical grid in California in 2014 demonstrated its
susceptibility to terrorist and cyber-attacks. Bryen said these attacks by a state sponsor of terrorism
could be a “causus belli”.
Importance of Plausible deniability in Cyber Warfare.
Bryen suggests that Israel has been “brilliant” in conducting sophisticated covert and cyber kinetic
operations by using in-country assets and highly trained commandos to set up ‘sleeper’ explosions. This
was amplified in remarks by former Vice Chief of Staff and Fox News Analyst General Jack Keane: “Keane
thought the alleged strikes were ‘a smart strategy’ on the part of Israel. If you accept the objective that
we don’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons with missiles that can deliver them, then the strategy the
Israelis are doing, likely with at least the moral support of the US, is fairly savvy because it gives the
Israelis deniability,” he explained.
The Footprints of Israel in the original Stuxnet.
The 2009-2010 Stuxnet malworm virus, Bryen noted, was imported into the Natanz facility, and spread
by “Bluetooth” infecting the Siemens PCS-7 SCADA and programmable controllers that spun the
centrifuges out of control. In the encrypted code of Stuxnet was the term ‘My RTUs” meaning Myrtle-
the Hebrew for Hadassah or Esther. There was also the code that triggered the spinning of centrifuges
out of control: 19790509. That was the date of the execution of the leader of the Iranian Jewish
community, Habib Elghanian, the head of the Tehran Persian Jewish Community. His death started the
large wave of Iranian Jewish immigration.
Also discussed in the Bryen interview was the parallel launch of the Israeli Ofek16 satellite with more
powerful cameras and sensors to provide intelligence on Iranian and proxy threats in the region. Bryen
noted the success of an Alaska test of the Israeli Arrow ABM system able to attack ICBMs during launch
phase which he gave a “B+” rating versus an F minus for the US Ground Based Mid-Course Interceptors.