Lots of explosions big and small today in different parts of the region. In Isfahan, there was a major blast at a facility that stores uranium gas which centrifuges use in the enrichment process for Iran’s nuclear program. Damage to this plant could cause heavy delays in its ability to further refine the nuclear fuel necessary to produce a nuclear weapon (if it is producing one).
Unlike in past similar instances, my Israeli sources could not confirm Mossad involvement in today’s mishap (which doesn’t mean there wasn’t, it only means he didn’t receive any information about it). But the explosion sounds exceedingly similar to past such events at Iranian bases (it would be the third such one in the past year).
Ronen Bergman, writing about today’s Isfahan incident and the recent missile base explosion, added extensive detail about how Mossad might’ve caused such sabotage in the latter case:
The Iranians believe the hand of the Mossad was involved with the help of Iranian opposition forces [the MEK]. The Iranians believe the target was not the actual facility but Gen. Hassan Moghaddam, who supervised IRG missile research and development. In their evaluation, the operation succeeded beyond what the Mossad had anticipated. This occurred because the attackers used an enormous quantity of explosive material in order to destroy the entire office building in which Moghaddam was located. This caused damage to the fuel tanks and other explosives located there which caused an even greater explosion.
Lots of odd bits to parse here. First, I don’t find it credible that Ronen Bergman knows what the Iranians believe about any of this, unless the Mossad is telling him what they’re hearing from official Iranian sources via covert surveillance. Rather, I believe the above is what the Mossad itself is likely to have told him happened. Of course, Bergman can’t expose his source so he couches the passage in terms related to what Iranians believe, rather than what Israeli intelligence believes.
Second, as to the claim that the MEK managed to infiltrate the complex with a massive amount of explosive material, it simply beggars belief. How could they have penetrated one of the most closely guarded facilities in the Iranian military? I suppose the MEK could’ve rigged a vehicle in the manner of a car bomb and brought it into the base and exploded it next to the office building in question. If so, what an amazing lapse on the part of the IRG! At any rate, we either have a massive security breach exploited by the Mossad and MEK or we have a story that raises more questions than it answers.
The Institute for Science and International Security proposes a different scenario, which may be equally plausible:
ISIS learned that the blast occurred as Iran had achieved a major milestone in the development of a new missile. Iran was apparently performing a volatile procedure involving a missile engine at the site when the blast occurred.
This would tend to imply that the explosion was an accident resulting from a highly dangerous procedure involved in development of a new Iranian missile prototype. Though it might still be possible to sabotage such a missile engine test.
Returning to Bergman, he doesn’t say that the Mossad was responsible for the Isfahan explosion (as he does for the blast that killed Moghaddam two weeks ago), but he implies that it was.
Moving to Lebanon, yesterday Lebanese militants fired at least four rockets into northern Israel. Haaretz says the IDF doesn’t believe Hezbollah was responsible but that a Palestinian-affiliated “global jihad” splinter group was responsible. This description is so vague as to be almost meaningless. But this is par for the course for Israeli intelligence and I don’t necessarily believe anything they say about who’s responsible.
This was the first such fire in a very long while. There must’ve been a significant motivation for the group to have violated the ceasefire in place since the 2006 war. I can think of only two possible reasons: one, the militants may be flexing their muscle, perhaps at the behest of Iran as a warning to Israel of what it has in store if it attacks Iran; two, my report last week that IDF military intelligence tricked Hezbollah into taking a booby-trapped Israeli drone into a south Lebanon arms depot of theirs, where the Israelis promptly detonated it setting off an explosion reported by the Daily Star.
If this is indeed something like what did happen, Hezbollah would be exceedingly pissed off and a response of firing a volley or two of missiles into northern Israel wouldn’t be at all surprising. And in response to that, if the IDF wished to soothe relations with the group it could release a statement that its own aerial surveillance found no evidence of any explosion at any Hezbollah arms depot in the south. This would in effect be telling the Lebanese militia that Israel didn’t cause any explosion. And this indeed is what happened with Alon Ben David at Channel 10 (Hebrew) and Jerusalem Post reporting that IDF drones could find no evidence of any damage to the Hezbollah base in question. Of course, Ben David makes an allowance for the fact that the drone may not have examined the correct location of the explosion and only photographed where the IDF THOUGHT it occurred.
Though a few troubling thoughts about this story remain: if there was no explosion, then Israel and Hezbollah would know this and there would be no need to fire missiles or deny that there was an explosion. If there was an explosion, then Hezbollah would know this and an Israeli denial would ring hollow.
I really don’t know what to make of it all. But one thing is for sure, my well-connected source was told by likely Israeli intelligence operatives that Israel caused this explosion. Then a few days later after Lebanese militants rained down missiles on Israel, other intelligence sources told Israeli media a different story. It’s a strange, dark and dangerous world Israelis have made for themselves.