In September 2012, Iran’s Fars News Agency (FNS) reported, Iranian nuclear experts had thwarted “enemies’ plots to infiltrate and blow up the … newly constructed Fordow uranium enrichment facility” near Qom. Abbas Ali Mansouri, an Iranian member of parliament, stated that “arrogant powers” could not “bear” Iran’s “rapid progress and flourishing,” and, to no avail, “spare no inhuman acts to prevent the country’s progress.”
How ironic, therefore, the Jan. 24, 2013 report from former Iranian CIA operative Reza Kahlili of news, via former Iranian secret intelligence security chief, Hamid Reza Zakeri, of devastating sabotage three days earlier at the Fordow nuclear enrichment facility. An explosion 300 feet deep had destroyed much of the site containing 2,700 uranium enrichment centrifuges (first discovered by Westerners in 2009), and trapped over 200 workers. Previously, experts had reported, improving the plant’s 20 percent level uranium to weapons grade would take but weeks.
That weekend (Jan. 27), Die Welt‘s Clemens Wergen reported that its Sunday edition had independently confirmed the explosion via experts plugged into the Iranian intelligence service. “Die Welt reported it, and they are very good on Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” Clare Lopez, a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy, told Leeb Group Managing Editor Alyssa A. Lappen. Their confirmation “through independent sources says [to me] that they verified the details with sources inside BND,” Germany’s counterpart to the CIA. Die Welt also noted that the plant’s elevator shafts and emergency exits had blown out.
Also on Jan. 27, UPI ran the story, citing Kahlili’s original report, likewise noting the explosion’s force, felt in a 3-mile radius, the imposition of a 15-mile no-traffic zone, and hours-long closure of the Tehran-Qom highway. U.S. officials were informed, but neither the U.S. nor Iran had verified or denied.
News spread on Jan. 28, when the Times of London confirmed the report, citing Israeli officials not previously quoted. “We are still in the preliminary stages of understanding what happened,” an unnamed Israeli official said, according to the report. “He did not know if the explosion was ‘sabotage or accident,’ and refused to comment on reports” of simultaneous sightings of Israeli aircraft near the facility. Alternative news source Missing Peace reported confirmation, also, from London’s Centre for Arab & Iranian Studies director Ali Reza Nourizadeh, a commentator for Deutsche Welle and Voice of America.
Reports followed in several Israeli papers, including Arutz Sheva, quoting an Israel Defense Forces Radio interview of Zakeri himself. “It was a big blast and because the facility is built under a stone mountain, it is very difficult to get to the workers who are trapped there,” Zakeri reportedly told IDF Radio, citing destruction of elevators and emergency staircases.
The Times of Israel quoted Israeli Acting Defense Minister and former Shin Bet security chief Avi Dichter. “Any explosion in Iran that doesn’t hurt people but hurts its assets is welcome,” Dichter stated. Other Israeli newspapers joined the parade: Israel Matzav, Jerusalem Post, and Ynet. So did the U.K.’s Mail Online, citing Israeli officials—and correctly noting that Iran had ignored several U.N. Security Council resolutions ordering Iran to suspend all uranium enrichment.
Even Bahrain’s Gulf Daily News, plus its official news agency, reported the news on Jan. 29, although the former Persian Gulf outlet also noted Reuters’ inability to confirm it, and quoted the denial of any Fordow explosion from Iranian military commander Massoud Jazayeri, carried on Iran’s ISNA news agency.
Iranian denials then mounted, and English wire services (including Reuters, AP, and follow-up UPI coverage) lead stories with those—alongside purported confirmation of Iran’s denials from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). That week, most headlines on Fordow claimed the explosion never happened, and many quoted White House spokesman Jay Carney, too: “We have no information to confirm the allegations in that report, and we do not believe the report is credible.”
“The White House is hedging its bets,” CSP senior fellow Lopez told Leeb last week. “It still wants dialogue with the Iranian regime. Despite all the setbacks, and getting nowhere after multiple rounds of talks—four or five rounds in 2012, and one in January 2013—… they keep thinking and hoping [talks will] get somewhere. I don’t know why they think that. After so many times Lucy grabs the football, Charlie Brown, you know you’ll never kick it.” That could explain the administration’s disavowal, but IAEA denials are completely disingenuous. “IAEA has had no inspectors [in Iran] since last August,” and never had cameras at Fordow, as it does at Iran’s larger Natanz facility” she said.
Most liberal media, and even Fox News, were in the deniers’ corner.
But alternative, left-tilting Policy Mic news site found the initial lack of mainstream news “bizarre.” Circumstantial evidence surprisingly led Policy Mic writer Bryant Harris to conclude, “a strong possibility emerges that this was another incident in the U.S.-Israel shadow war on Iran’s nuclear program.”
Iran had repeatedly responded with denials to attacks “on its military or nuclear operations.” In 2010, Iran denied that the infamous Stuxnet virus had rendered its centrifuges inoperable, despite taking thousands of centrifuges offline, a fact even the IAEA confirmed, which the U.S. confirmed in 2012. Operation Olympic Games was initiated with Israeli support during the Bush administration. Other such examples abound.
Meanwhile, in a Jan. 25 interview in Davos, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak outlined possible use of a “surgical option” and U.S. Israeli cooperation to avoid full scale war over Iran’s nuclear program. Given Iran’s “robust anti-earthquake technology,” only the Massive Ordnance Penetrator could penetrate Fordow, Harris observed. Boeing only recently announced that its high-tech bomb could penetrate 200-foot-thick concrete before exploding. The explosion occurred, Harris wrote, and followed a logical “series of covert actions” to impede Iran’s nuclear ambitions—making it “very likely” the result of an external strike, not malfunction.
Probably it’s no coincidence, either, that immediately after the reported explosion, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called an emergency summit, or that Iran the next week announced sending a monkey into outer space (to boast its rocket power)—and then news-flashed plans to speed and upgrade its nuclear program. Most likely, Iran’s Feb. 3 announcement of another round of talks in Kazakhstan amounts to more bluster—another Peanuts episode, as it were.
But the explosive news, albeit largely uncovered by mainstream Western media, is mostly good.
And it ties to U.S. and global markets. “There is a financial aspect to this,” Lopez remarked. “When the Middle East blows up next time—when, not if—it will affect economic news, oil and gas prices, investors,” everything.
As investors, we must keep a close eye on Middle East developments, especially given bizarre mainstream news blackouts—and official and media denials. This time, we sigh in relief.