Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency “reveals” that Saudi Arabia and Israel’s Mossad are “co-conspiring to produce a computer worm more destructive than the Stuxnet malware to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.” The report appeared Monday, Dec. 2, during foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s tour of Arabian Gulf capitals,with the object of easing tensions between the emirates and Tehran. Riyadh was not on his itinerary.
In 2010, Stuxnet, reputed to have been developed by the US and Israel, was the malworm which attacked the software of Iran’s uranium enrichment program and caused a major slowdown, as well as disrupting its only nuclear reactor at Bushehr.
The Iranian agency now claims that Saudi intelligence director Prince Bandar Bin Sultan and the head of Israel’s Mossad Tamir Pardo met in Vienna on Nov. 24, shortly after the six world powers signed their first interim nuclear agreement with Iran in Geneva.
The two spy chiefs brought with them teams of Israeli and Saudi cyber specialists to discuss “the production of a malware worse than Stuxnet to spy on and destroy the software structure of Iran’s nuclear program,” according to Fars. Riyadh was willing to put up the funding estimated roughly at $1 million.
This plan was approved after the Geneva deal was roundly castigated by Saudi Arabia for acknowledging Iran’s rights to enrich uranium as “Western treachery,” while Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu called it “a historic mistake” and a danger to the world.
Without spelling this out, the Iranian source suggested that President Barack Obama, who in 2010 was ready to go along with the Stuxnet attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, had changed course and opted out of further cyber war after deciding to make Iran his strategic partner in the Middle East.
Israeli intelligence had therefore turned to Saudi intelligence, said the Iranian source.
The same source “disclosed,” without citing dates, that the Saudi prince and the Israeli spy chief had rendezvoused a number of times in the Jordanian port of Aqaba. When those meetings became an open secret in the Middle East, Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz is said to have warned Bandar that the close direct collaboration between the two agencies was causing concern in the royal house.
In another “revelation,” Fars claimed that Prince Bandar secretly visited Israel under cover of French President Francois Hollande’s state visit on Nov. 17-18, ahead of the Geneva meeting on Iran’s nuclear program. This source said the Saudi prince took part in the high-powered Franco-Israeli discussions in Tel Aviv on ways to halt Iran’s nuclear progress.
debkafile’s intelligence sources infer four motives from the manner and timing of the Iranian news agency’s story:
1. To draw the Crown Prince into reprimanding Bandar for being over-zealous in his partnership with an Israeli head of intelligence and so embarrass him at home. This fits into the context of the succession struggle which our Gulf sources report is afoot in Riyadh. A group of princes is campaigning for Salman’s removal as Crown Prince. Bandar is one of them.
By highlighting his association with Pardo, the Fars publication seeks to discredit Bandar and stir up trouble to sharpen the infighting in Riyadh, with a view to weakening Saudi Arabia’s hand against Iran.
2. Tehran is getting seriously worried about the Saudi-Israeli intelligence partnership and the prospect of them acting together for covert operations, including cyber warfare, against their nuclear projects. Going public on this partnership is intended to show the Iranian people that the regime is on top of these dangers and well prepared to forestall them.
3. Detractors of the Geneva accord in Tehran are being warned by the regime that formidable external threats lie in wait for the national nuclear program and they would be well advised to desist from their opposition to the deal with the six powers, because it weakens the country’s defenses.
4. The Fars disclosures were picked up and run by Russian media on Dec. 2 – albeit shunned by Western publications – evidence of the close cooperation between Iranian and Russian intelligence services.
No part of these reports is confirmed from any other sources.