Whether it was the result of an Israeli covert operation, or, as Iran claims, an accident, the latest deadly incident once again highlights the willingness of the United States and Israel to engage in acts of violence that were they instigated by Iran or any other state or non-state actor would simply be called acts of terrorism.
Karl Vick reports: Israeli newspapers on Sunday were thick with innuendo, the front pages of the three largest dailies dominated by variations on the headline “Mysterious Explosion in Iranian Missile Base.” Turn the page, and the mystery is answered with a wink. “Who Is Responsible for Attacks on the Iranian Army?” asks Maariv, and the paper lists without further comment a half-dozen other violent setbacks to Iran’s nuclear and military nexus. For Israeli readers, the coy implication is that their own government was behind Saturday’s massive blast just outside Tehran. It is an assumption a Western intelligence source insists is correct: the Mossad — the Israeli agency charged with covert operations — did it. “Don’t believe the Iranians that it was an accident,” the official tells TIME, adding that other sabotage is being planned to impede the Iranian ability to develop and deliver a nuclear weapon. “There are more bullets in the magazine,” the official says.
The powerful blast or series of blasts — reports described an initial explosion followed by a much larger one — devastated a missile base in the gritty urban sprawl to the west of the Iranian capital. The base housed Shahab missiles, which, at their longest range, can reach Israel. Last week’s report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran had experimented with removing the conventional warhead on the Shahab-3 and replacing it with one that would hold a nuclear device. Iran says the explosion was an accident that came while troops were transferring ammunition out of the depot “toward the appropriate site.” (See why ties between the U.S. and Iran are under threat.)
The explosion killed at least 17 people, including Major General Hassan Moqqadam, described by Iranian state media as a pioneer in Iranian missile development and the Revolutionary Guard commander in charge of “ensuring self-sufficiency” in armaments, a challenging task in light of international sanctions.
Coming the weekend after the release of the unusually critical IAEA report, which laid out page upon page of evidence that Iran is moving toward a nuclear weapon, the blast naturally sharpened concern over Israel’s threat to launch airstrikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Half the stories on the Tehran Times website on Sunday referenced the possibility of a military strike, most warning of dire repercussions.
But the incident also argued, maybe even augured, against an outright strike. If Israel — perhaps in concert with Washington and other allies — can continue to inflict damage to the Iranian nuclear effort through covert actions, the need diminishes for overt, incendiary moves like air strikes. The Stuxnet computer worm bollixed Iran’s centrifuges for months, wreaking havoc on the crucial process of uranium enrichment.
And in Sunday’s editions, the Hebrew press coyly listed what Yedioth Ahronoth called “Iran’s Mysterious Mishaps.” The tallies ran from the November 2007 explosion at a missile base south of Tehran to the October 2010 blast at a Shahab facility in southwestern Iran, to the assassinations of three Iranian scientists working in the nuclear program — two last year and one in July.
Meanwhile, Al Jazeera reports:
Barack Obama’s push for consensus over renewed concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme have had a lukewarm response from the Russian and Chinese leaders attending the APEC summit in Hawaii.
The US president had sought support from Dmitry Medvedev and Hu Jintao as he seeks to rein back Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but he got no public endorsement from either of them.
Obama met his counterparts on Sunday on the sidelines of the summit in Honolulu, the capital of his home state, where he discussed a UN nuclear watchdog report that said there was “credible” information that Tehran may have worked on developing nuclear weapons.
Al Jazeera’s Patty Culhane, reporting from Honolulu, said there was “absolutely no consensus” between the leaders on how to deal with Iran following the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report.
“This was President Obama’s first face-to-face meeting with Hu and Medvedev since the IAEA report came out. The US believes that it needs China and Russia to get on board with sanctions and it was fairly clear … that he did not get any reassurances,” she said.
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