Speaking about Iran at this weekend’s Republican foreign policy debate, the candidates seemed to only agree on one thing: President Obama wasn’t getting the job done. Instead, former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich said the president should undertake “covert operations” to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions. At the debate, Gingrich said:
GINGRICH: There are a number of ways to be smart about Iran and relatively few ways to be dumb. And the administration has skipped all the ways to be smart. […]
First of all, maximum covert operations to block and disrupt the Iranian program, including taking out their scientists, including breaking up their systems, all of it covertly, all of it deniable.
Second, maximum coordination with the Israelis in a way which allows them to maximize their impact in Iran.
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Long-shot candidate Rick Santorum also said he hoped the U.S. was undertaking “covert activity” to curb Iran’s program.
But, as the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus points out, “Some of the activities they suggested may be underway but not publicly acknowledged.” Publicly calling for covert activity, as Gingrich and Santorum did, may provide for a satisfying political punch because the administration is unlikely to defend its record. To do so could possibly hamper ongoing efforts and, more to the point, would destroy any of the deniability that Gingrich calls for. Announcing covert operations means that they, by definition, can never be carried out.
But media accounts help piece together what indeed seems like wide-ranging covert activity by the U.S. and Israel, working hand-in-hand. The New York Times reported in January that the U.S. and Israel had worked together to develop the powerful Stuxnet computer virus that destroyed some of Iran’s centrifuges, slowing down its nuclear work. And one imagines that when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that Israeli and American “security cooperation is unprecedented,” he could well have been talking about work on Iran issues. Former prime minister and current defense chief Ehud Barak also recently said: “I can hardly remember a better period of support, American support and cooperation and similar strategic understanding of events around us than what we have right now.”
Just this weekend, at least one massive explosion rocked an Iranian missile base outside Tehran, killing a major figure in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Force’s missile program. Speaking to Time magazine, a Western intelligence source fingered Mossad, Israel’s vaunted spy agency. As recently as this summer, nuclear scientists have been turning up dead in Iran, victims of likely assassins riding motorcycles and using either guns or so-called “sticky bombs” that adhere to the sides of vehicles. Others, too, have noticed the likely covert war against Iran’s nuke program, but not the GOP candidates. To do so might get in the way of their attacks, not on Iran but on the Obama administration. Maybe the administration isn’t being so “dumb” after all.