UPDATE: The Times of London’s Israel correspondent, Sheera Frenkel, has just confirmed the Fordo incident through her own independent sources:
An explosion is believed to have damaged Iran’s Fordow nuclear facility, which is being used to enrich uranium, Israeli intelligence officials have told The Times. Sources in Tel Aviv said yesterday that they thought the explosion happened last week. The Israeli Government is investigating reports that it led to extensive structural damage and 200 workers had been trapped inside.
One Israeli official said: “We are still in the preliminary stages of understanding what happened and how significant it is.” He did not know, he added, if the explosion was “sabotage or accident”, and refused to comment on reports that Israeli aircraft were seen near the facility at the time of the explosion.
Sheera is a terrific reporter. She would not report a story unless totally confident in the authenticity of her source, which makes me even more confident in the accuracy of my own.
A highly-placed Israeli source informs me that Iran’s uranium enrichment facility at Fordo has been extensively damaged by an explosion. The bomb was the work of a joint Israeli-U.S.-MEK sabotage operation codenamed Achilles, which used a Trojan horse to infiltrate the plant.
Bibi Netanyahu convened an extraordinary meeting of all the top intelligence and military brass on Wednesday, the day after the election, to evaluate Achilles. They deemed it a “great success.” Word of the meeting leaked to the media, so the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) released a cover story saying the meeting was about the Syrian situation (Hebrew). It wasn’t.
Such sabotage has happened before to Iranian nuclear facilities. But one of the things that is new about this operation is that this is the first time in his previous reporting that my source has told me the U.S. and MEK collaborated with the Mossad. Previous assassinations were joint efforts of only the MEK and Israel. If this is true, it may mean that the State Department’s removal of the MEK from the U.S. terror list has allowed the CIA to begin working with the Iranian group in a much more direct fashion. Those of us who know about the nature of the MEK can only be alarmed that our government is allying itself with a terrorist cult.
Across Yediot’s front page, this major headline blared (see image):
Mystery Explosion in Iran
Iranian intelligence sources who defected to the west: the uranium enrichment plant in the belly of the earth near Qom was destroyed last week.
Alex Fishman, whose article accompanies the headline, includes hardly a reference to the astonishing news featured in the headline. He does refer to sabotage and mysterious failures which have beset the nuclear program and caused any estimation of an Iranian nuclear weapon to be delayed by two years.
The Yediot headline may refer to a report by Iranian defector using the pseudonym, Reza Khalili, and published in the far-right news site, WND. He was the first to report on the explosion and based his story on a former Iranian intelligence official. That source alleges:
The regime believes the blast was sabotage and the explosives could have reached the area disguised as equipment or in the uranium hexafluoride stock transferred to the site…
The accident occurred on Monday at 11AM Iran time. He adds that 240 personnel are also trapped underground and could not be rescued so far.
To be candid, I would never believe anything Khalili said unless it could be independently corroborated. This explains why. He is an entirely untrustworthy source, nor is WND a reliable publication. But given my source, who added further details not published by Fishman or Khalili, I trust there was an explosion at Fordo. Further, I spoke with an Israeli security correspondent whose work is entirely independent and trustworthy. He too is confident there was such an event. He also agreed the information I published above was accurate as far as what he knows.
Now the question is what impact this will have on Iran’s nuclear program and on the prospect for an attack against Iran. Fordo was Iran’s most advanced, secret, and secure enrichment facility and damaging or destroying it would be a major blow. Further, since the Iranians believed it was impregnable to attack they saw it as a “winning negotiation card” according to Muhammad Sahimi, they could use in negotiations with the west. Now they’ve lost that card and proven that even their most well-protected facility is vulnerable.
But Iran has decentralized its program so that precisely such a setback will not destroy the entire project. Only 20% of Iran’s centrifuges were in Fordo. The rest are in Natanz and other sites. The loss of a large number of scientific and technical staff, if that has occurred, will also damage the program. But again, it has been organized so that even such a devastating outcome could be overcome by other research units around the country. Progress will be delayed, but not stopped or reversed.
As to the likelihood of an attack against Iran, if this story is accurate that prospect has been delayed or even eliminated. Pres. Obama will find no urgency whatsoever to attack Iran militarily when sabotage has proven so effective. Depending on how Bibi reacts, it may drive an even deeper wedge between them if he doesn’t give up the idea of such a joint attack with the U.S.
But I point out as I have every time I’ve reported such scoops: sabotage is not a substitute for having an actual policy concerning Iran’s nuclear program. It does not persuade Iran to renounce its efforts. It does not undermine Netanyahu’s long-standing hatred for Iran and his desire for regime change. Sabotage, whether it’s an explosion or the murder of nuclear scientists, only delays the inevitable. If Iran determines to have a nuclear weapon, it will. Nothing short of regime change can stop such a development.
But Iran’s leaders have repeatedly said they do not intend to create such a weapon. Western and U.S. intelligence sources confirm no evidence proving that Iran is moving in this direction. So what are we sabotaging and why?
Finally, if we want to come to an understanding with Iran about its nuclear program we must do that at the negotiating table, not via sabotage or computer viruses. No doubt, there are cheers at the CIA, Mossad and in the lairs of the MEK. They consider this a great victory (many of them don’t want to bomb Iran either). But it isn’t. It’s merely one battle in a war that they can’t win using the means they’ve adopted. This means that the U.S. has joined the Mossad and MEK in using tactics that would be considered terrorism were they used against us. This isn’t surprising considering the Obama administration’s embraced of targeted killings and drone strikes. Nor is it surprising considering Obama’s pursuit of whistleblowers who attempt to expose our use of such tactics including torture.
I come to the reluctant conclusion that the U.S., like Israel, is a state that uses terror when it suits. Unlike Israel, Obama has all manner of justifications and obfuscations to explain away what it’s doing. The prevailing notion is we’re not doing what you think we’re doing. What we’re doing is constitutional and conforms with international law. John Brennan, Obama’s nominee for the next CIA director, looks a Congressional committee straight in the eye and tells them he’s righteous and dares them to say otherwise.
UPDATE I: I spoke hours ago with Iranian-American journalist Farzad Azizan, who tells me that a number of Iranian news agencies are officially denying any incident at Fordo. Further, Azizan interviewed Khalili’s original source for this story, Hamidreza Zakeri. Zakeri was a former Iranian security official who defected 12 years ago and lives in Germany. Zakeri told Azizan that the report about the explosion originated with a security officer at the Fordo plant. Though Zakeri initially expressed confidence in the reliability of his source, he also conceded the possibility of error, saying we should wait to see what the Iranians say. Not exactly an expression of confidence in one’s source. Other Iranians have urged me to use caution in reporting this story.To be clear, there are two independent sets of sources here. One, associated with Khalili and Zakeri doesn’t appear credible. But I base my story on an entirely different and independent set of sources. In them, I have confidence.
UPDATE II: I urge you to read my reassessment of this story here.