By WILLIAM J. BROAD, JOHN MARKOFF and DAVID E. SANGER, The New York Times
The Dimona complex in the Negev desert is famous as the heavily guarded heart ofÂ Israelâ€™s never-acknowledged nuclear arms program, where neat rows of factories make atomic fuel for the arsenal.
Over the past two years, according to intelligence and military experts familiar with its operations, Dimona has taken on a new, equally secret role â€” as a critical testing ground in a joint American and Israeli effort to undermineÂ Iranâ€™s efforts to make a bomb of its own.
Behind Dimonaâ€™s barbed wire, the experts say, Israel has spun nuclear centrifuges virtually identical to Iranâ€™s at Natanz, where Iranian scientists are struggling to enrich uranium. They say Dimona tested the effectiveness of theStuxnet computer worm, a destructive program that appears to have wiped out roughly a fifth of Iranâ€™s nuclear centrifuges and helped delay, though not destroy, Tehranâ€™s ability to make its first nuclear arms.
â€œTo check out the worm, you have to know the machines,â€ said an American expert on nuclear intelligence. â€œThe reason the worm has been effective is that the Israelis tried it out.â€
Though American and Israeli officials refuse to talk publicly about what goes on at Dimona, the operations there, as well as related efforts in the United States, are among the newest and strongest clues suggesting that the virus was designed as an American-Israeli project to sabotage the Iranian program.
In recent days, the retiring chief of Israelâ€™s Mossad intelligence agency, Meir Dagan, and Secretary of StateHillary Rodham Clinton separately announced that they believed Iranâ€™s efforts had been set back by several years. Mrs. Clinton cited American-led sanctions, which have hurt Iranâ€™s ability to buy components and do business around the world.
The gruff Mr. Dagan, whose organization has been accused by Iran of being behind the deaths of several Iranian scientists, told the Israeli Knesset in recent days that Iran had run into technological difficulties that could delay a bomb until 2015. That represented a sharp reversal from Israelâ€™s long-held argument that Iran was on the cusp of success.
The biggest single factor in putting time on the nuclear clock appears to be Stuxnet, the most sophisticated cyberweapon ever deployed.
In interviews over the past three months in the United States and Europe, experts who have picked apart the computer worm describe it as far more complex â€” and ingenious â€” than anything they had imagined when it began circulating around the world, unexplained, in mid-2009.
To read more, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/16/world/middleeast/16stuxnet.html
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