U.S. intelligence agencies recently reported growing concerns that Israel will conduct a strike on Iran using a high-altitude nuclear burst aimed at disrupting all electronics in the country.
The intelligence worries were triggered by recent publication of an article in the Israeli press suggesting the Jewish state should carry out an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, attack.
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U.S. officials said the article likely reflects official Israeli government thinking about a possible preemptive response to Iran’s expected emergence as a nuclear weapons state in the near future.
Asked about the EMP report, an Israeli government spokesman declined to comment. A U.S. intelligence community spokesman also declined comment.
A U.S. official said the article in question appeared Aug. 6 in the news outlet Israel National News. The article stated that an Israeli nuclear burst over Iran could "send Iran back to the Stone Age."
It was the first time the issue of a nuclear EMP attack by Israel had appeared in a mainstream Israeli press outlet.
U.S. officials also suspect the article was written by someone in the Israeli government who favors such a strike. Another theory among analysts is that the Israeli government, at a minimum, encouraged publication of the article.
The American author of the Israeli article, Joe Tuzara, wrote that growing signs Iran is speeding up development of nuclear weapons should lead Tel Aviv to launch the preemptive EMP attack.
"For the most part, Israel’s dilemma is focused singly on the use of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) without informing the U.S.," Tuzara stated.
The attack could be carried out using a nuclear warhead detonated after launch by one of Israel’s Jericho III missiles at high-altitude over north central Iran.
EMP affects computers and other electronics and would disrupt critical infrastructure that relies on electronics and electricity, such as communications, transportation, and other networks.
The burst would create "no blast or radiation effects on the ground," the article stated.
"Coupled with cyber-attacks, Iranians would not know it happened except for a massive shutdown of the electric power grid, oil refineries, and a transportation gridlock," the article said.
"Food supply would be exhausted and communication would be largely impossible, leading to economic collapse. Similarly, the uranium enrichment centrifuges in Fordo, Natanz, and widely scattered elsewhere, would freeze for decades."
Around the same time the article was published, state-run media in Iran announced that Iran plans to take all key government ministries off the Internet in September to protect against cyber attacks.
The announcement followed several cyber attacks that disabled Iranian computer networks, including those controlling the nuclear program.
The Israeli EMP article mirrors the doomsday scenario contained in the 2009 novel "One Second After" by American writer William R. Forstchen. The book has been widely read in U.S. military and intelligence circles, and examines the aftermath of an EMP attack on an American town.
Peter Pry, a former CIA analyst and a leading U.S. specialist on EMP, said he doubts the allegations that Israel is planning an EMP strike.
"It is not based on any Israeli source, but is the result of the U.S. media recycling its own speculation," Pry told the Free Beacon in an email.
Pry said he was present at a meeting with a U.S. journalist who first advocated the idea. The notion was later picked up and reported by other U.S. reporters.
Pry said the speculation "is creating a misimpression that there is some credible Israeli source behind it."
"In fact, I have been to Israel, at the invitation of their government, to help convince officials that Israel should protect its electric grid from EMP," said Pry, who now heads a group called EMPact America.
"I have been invited to return to continue this mission in October," he said. "If Israel has such high confidence in the efficacy of an EMP attack, why do they need to be educated on the consequences to their own grid by me?"
Pry also said it is not clear an EMP attack would shut down the Iranian nuclear program since Iran’s centrifuges, which are being used to spin uranium gas into nuclear weapons fuel, are underground in bunkers protected from earth-penetrating weapons.
He also said the electromagnetic shockwave produced by an EMP blast could affect centrifuges, but the wave cannot penetrate too deeply into the earth.
"The EMP would certainly take down Iran's national electric grid, and nuclear weapons programs do require vast amounts of electricity (less so when based on centrifuges)," Pry said. "But the underground facilities probably have emergency generators."
"An EMP attack could conceivably stop Iran's nuclear weapons program, not by destroying nuclear facilities, but by paralyzing the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and allowing the people to successfully revolt and achieve regime change," Pry said.
Tuzara said his analysis of the prospect of a preemptive strike is based on five signs that Iran has reached what Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has called a "zone of immunity."
They include Iran’s plans to speed up uranium enrichment to 80 to 90 percent or weapons grade; along with indications that Iran has tested its ballistic missiles in an EMP mode with help from North Korea.
Other indicators include reports that Iran can further enrich its stocks of low-enriched uranium for weapons; and satellite photos that show recent fortification of underground nuclear facilities in Iran.
Last, the Iranians have begun loading fuel rods into the core of the Bushehr nuclear power plant reactor.
"In light of the latest developments, there is no question that Iran is now a de facto nuclear state—a ‘casus belli’ for Israeli military action," Tuzara said.
U.S. intelligence analysts and military intelligence officials are on high alert for any indications Israel will conduct a strike on Iran that could lead to a large-scale regional conflict.
Some U.S. officials believe Israel could conduct some type of action against Iran in October, prior to the U.S. presidential election.
America’s closest ally in the Middle East might act without warning.
U.S. concerns over an Israeli attack were heightened by Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, who said July 25 that any military strikes to set back Iran’s nuclear program would be costly, but that the loss of human life in a future Iranian nuclear attack on Israel would be far greater.
Iran has threatened counterattacks against Israel if it conducts a strike.
Iranian legislator Avaz Heidarpour was quoted in state-run Fars News Agency that if Israel attacks Iran, Iran could not guarantee that even one single Zionist living in the occupied Palestinian territories will survive.
"We have no doubt that the Zionists' claims about attacking Iran are nothing but psychological warfare," he said.