Three reasons the US should pay attention to Israel's Iran fears

In particular, this is because an Iranian capability to execute a nuclear electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack could collapse the electric grid and other critical U.S. infrastructure that sustains our economy, society, and the lives of more than 310 million Americans. 

1.     “Why would a country with a peaceful nuclear program develop intercontinental ballistic missiles, whose sole purpose is to deliver nuclear warheads?” asked Netanyahu. 
A reasonable question given that Iran already has demonstrated the capability to launch a ballistic missile from a freighter at sea.  An EMP attack launched from a ship is a ‘worst case nightmare scenario’ according to the EMP Commission.  It would leave no "fingerprints" and could be accomplished anonymously, with little or no fear of U.S. retaliation. 

2.     “While we were talking to the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in Isfahan,” quoted Netanyahu from President Rouhani’s 2011 book. 

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The Isfahan facility converts uranium ore into its enrichable form.  Iran, aided by North Korea, has also launched several satellites on polar orbits using its so-called Space Launch Vehicle, which is really a disguised ICBM, potentially to practice a surprise nuclear EMP attack.  A nuclear warhead disguised as a satellite that approached the U.S. from the South, where the U.S. has no ballistic missile early warning radars or interceptors, would blind side us.  For these reasons, the Congressional EMP Commission warned:  "Therefore, terrorists or state actors that possess relatively unsophisticated missiles armed with nuclear warheads may well calculate that, instead of destroying a city or military base, they may obtain the greatest political-military utility from one or a few such weapons by using them--or threatening their use--in an EMP attack." 

3.    “In 2005 North Korea agreed to a deal that was celebrated the world over,” Netanyahu reminded the assembly, but then “a year later, North Korea exploded its first nuclear device.” 

A Super-EMP warhead likely would be small enough for delivery against the U.S. mainland by North Korea's long-range missiles.  Indeed, because an EMP attack detonates the warhead high in the atmosphere, a weapon designed for EMP attack does not need a re-entry vehicle or heat shield, which are usually the heaviest components of a nuclear warhead.  Thus, rogue states like North Korea and Iran whose long-range missiles are constrained in payload size, may find an EMP attack most attractive because it is the easiest nuclear strike option to engineer--and by far the most damaging.  

Currently, Iran is not believed to have the capability of executing a nuclear attack against the homeland, but as PM Netanyahu said, it is positioning itself to race across that threshold at a moment’s notice.  That does not mean that both Israel and the United States are not currently at risk.  Debilitating and catastrophic EMP attacks on the United States are possible, now.  The U.S. is neither doing enough to hinder an attack from abroad nor defending our electrical grid domestically.

Contemporary U.S. society is not structured, nor does it have the means, to provide for the needs of over 310 million Americans without electricity.  In 2012 Rep. Trent Franks  (R-Ariz.) introduced the SHIELD Act (Secure high-voltage infrastructure for Electricity from lethal Damage Act) and he re-introduced the bill in June 2013.  The act encourages cooperation between industry and government in the development, promulgation, and implementation of standards and processes that are necessary to address the current shortcomings and vulnerabilities of the electric grid from a major EMP event.  Attention needs to be drawn to H.R. 2417 so that action can be taken to protect our electrical grid sooner rather than later because as Israel has pointed out, the threat is already upon us.  

Lopez, a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy, is a strategic policy and intelligence expert with a focus on national defense, Islam, Iran, and counterterrorism issues.  She formerly was a career operations officer with the Central Intelligence Agency.