Contradictory reports of an explosion at Iran’s uranium enrichment site have been emerging. Iran denies it ever happened, calling it “Western propaganda” while Israel confirms it, putting tensions around upcoming nuclear talks.
Reports of the explosion at the underground Fordow plant, near the city of Qom, central-northern Iran, originally surfaced on Friday after a former Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Reza Kahlili, published his report on the WND.com website.
Iran has denied the reports, while Israel and some of US media reported that the explosion occurred and caused significant damage.
The West has maintained that the Fordow plant (which was discovered in 2009) has been producing uranium enriched to 20 per cent fissile purity since late 2011, compared to the 3.5 per cent level required for nuclear energy plants, and has been operating 700 centrifuges there since the start of the year.
‘Sabotage’ and ‘propaganda’
Iran has accused Israel and the US of trying to influence upcoming nuclear negotiations due to happen in coming weeks.
“The false news of an explosion at Fordow is Western propaganda ahead of nuclear negotiations to influence their process and outcome,” Reuters quoted the deputy head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Saeed Shamseddin Bar Broudi, as saying.
While Israeli intelligence has confirmed that the explosion occurred and caused serious damage, but the area had not been evacuated, The Sunday Times reported.
Israel is still in the “preliminary stages of understanding what happened and how significant it is,” the UK newspaper quoted one official as saying. It is still unclear whether the explosion was “sabotage or an accident”.
Another source within Israeli intelligence has confirmed the same to The Times of London.
“Israel believes the Iranians have not evacuated the surrounding area. It is unclear whether that is because no harmful substances have been released, or because Tehran is trying to avoid sparking panic among residents,” the source said.
The first to report about the explosion was Reza Kahlili for WND.com. The explosion “destroyed much of the installation and trapped about 240 personnel deep underground” including scientists and workers, many of whom are foreign nationals, Kahlili wrote.
The report cites a “source in the security forces protecting Fordow,” who states that the explosion occurred last Monday and that the plant itself is located inside a mountain to protect it from aerial attacks.
“The blast shook facilities within a radius of three miles. Security forces have enforced a no-traffic radius of 15 miles, and the Tehran-Qom highway was shut down for several hours after the blast,” the report said.
The emergency exits have collapsed at the site and regime fears more loss of life due to possible radiation.
On Monday, Kahlili, speaking to the Jerusalem Post, confirmed that the explosion could have been very damaging in terms of radiation leaks.
“This is the center of the Iranian nuclear program. It’s essential for the regime, its activities, and its nuclear program. If such a blow was given to Fordow, it definitely harms [Iran] drastically. They were reaching for 20 per cent uranium enrichment, and were increasing output,” he added.
Kahlili believes that the alleged explosion will be “receiving more coverage in the US” and that “more information” will become available to verify the incident.
But the credibility of the report has not been confirmed by most of the international media.
And the main problem with it remains that there are no supporting evidence to confirm it, according to Haaretz.
The objectivity of the report’s author has been called into question. Kahlili worked for CIA in the 1980s while living in Iran, collecting information, then in a few years he was moved to the US with his family.
“Kahlili himself is a frequent speaker at events in US organized by right-wing organizations and those that support the right in Israel … He also compared the regime in Tehran to that of the Nazis, and called upon Israel to bomb Iran’s nuclear installations”, Haaretz journalist Anshel Pfeffer reported.
Right now he makes his living writing books and giving lectures on Iran. Kahlili claims “to still have an impressive network of sources in various government agencies.”
He has never revealed his face, citing fear of retribution as the reason, appearing always in a baseball cap, dark glasses and a surgical mask.
“His employment by the CIA has been confirmed by agency sources and an approving review of his book [A Time to Betray] even appeared on the CIA website,” added Pfeffer.
It has also been pointed out by the media that if the explosion did indeed occur, why were there no satellite photos of emergency vehicles and rescue operations afterwards and no affected relatives speaking out.
There had been reports of sightings of Israeli aircraft near the facility at the time of the explosion, which Israel has denied, the Sunday Times reported.
Israel’s acting defense minister on Sunday said the news of the explosion is “welcomed” and that any deterrence to Iran’s nuclear program is good news.
However, it has been argued that Israel lacks the capability to penetrate the Fordow site and could not be involved, while the US on the other hand possesses the necessary military technology.
“There have been many references to the fact that Israel doesn’t have strong enough bombs to penetrate [Fordow] from the air, but the US MOP [massive ordnance penetrator] is reported to be able to penetrate it,” Emily Landau, director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Project at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, told the Jerusalem Post, adding that America’s MOP is operational.
The complete shutdown of the Fordow plant was one of the three demands made by the P5+1 Nations (the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany) on Iran during nuclear talks, which ended last year after officials from the Islamic Republic refused to negotiate.
The West has been concerned that Iran is working towards developing a nuclear weapon. While Iran has maintained its program is peaceful and that it needs to produce highly-enriched uranium for medical use.