Israeli minister welcomes report of huge blast at Iran nuclear plant

Any such explosion that doesn’t kill people is good news, says Avi Dichter, responding to unconfirmed story of devastating sabotage at Fordo

A satellite image of Iran's Fordo uranium enrichment facility. (AP/DigitalGlobe)
A satellite image of Iran's Fordo uranium enrichment facility. (AP/DigitalGlobe)

Israel’s Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter on Sunday welcomed a report that Iran’s Fordo nuclear facility had been rocked by a huge explosion.

The report was published Friday on the website, under the sensational headline “Sabotage! Key Iranian nuclear facility hit?” It claimed that a blast deep within Fordo last Monday “destroyed much of the installation and trapped about 240 personnel deep underground,” citing information from former intelligence officer Hamidreza Zakeri, who it said used to work with the Islamic regime’s Ministry of Intelligence and National Security.

Hamidreza Zakeri (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)
Hamidreza Zakeri (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)

The article claimed the blast “shook facilities within a radius of three miles,” that Iranian security forces had “enforced a no-traffic radius of 15 miles,” that the Tehran-Qom highway was shut down for several hours after the blast, and that, “as of Wednesday afternoon, rescue workers had failed to reach the trapped personnel.” It said US officials were aware of the reported blast.

There was no independent confirmation of the claims. Nonetheless, Israel’s biggest-selling daily Yedioth Ahronoth led its Sunday paper with the report on the alleged blast, which it said might be “the most significant incidence of sabotage in the Iranian nuclear program to date.”

Asked about the story, Dichter, a former head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, said, “Any explosion in Iran that doesn’t hurt people but hurts its assets is welcome.” Dichter was acting defense minister on Sunday, in the absence of Ehud Barak.

Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90)
Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90)

Israel and the United States have frequently been accused by the Iranian leadership of seeking to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program. Israel, which has been at the forefront of efforts to thwart Iran’s drive to the bomb, generally refuses to comment on such accusations.

On Thursday, Defense Minister Barak said he didn’t envision Iran being halted via diplomacy, and that sanctions need to be “much more drastic.” Ultimately, though, if worse comes to worst, there should be a US-led “readiness to launch a surgical operation that will delay” the Iranian program, Barak said at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

Ehud Barak at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos (photo credit: WEF screenshot)
Ehud Barak at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos (photo credit: WEF screenshot)

It does not need to be “a binary choice” between Iran going nuclear or a full-fledged war, he said. Rather, there could be a surgical operation, by which he said he meant “a scalpel,” not a “10-ton hammer.” Under orders from the Obama administration, Barak said, “the Pentagon prepared quite sophisticated, fine, extremely fine, scalpels. So it is not an issue of a major war or a failure to block Iran. You could, under a certain situation, if worse comes to worst, end up with a surgical operation.”

The report noted that Fordo “has become a center for Iran’s nuclear activity because of the 2,700 centrifuges [there] enriching uranium to the 20-percent level… The regime’s uranium enrichment process takes place at two known sites: the Natanz facility with more than 10,000 centrifuges and Fordow with more than 2,700. The regime currently has enough low-grade (3.5 percent) uranium stockpiled for six nuclear bombs if further enriched.”

The website, which also acknowledged that its story had no independent confirmation, said the blast occurred at 11:30 a.m. Tehran time Monday. It “rocked the site, which is buried deep under a mountain and immune not only to airstrikes but to most bunker-buster bombs… The site, about 300 feet under a mountain, had two elevators which now are out of commission. One elevator descended about 240 feet and was used to reach centrifuge chambers. The other went to the bottom to carry heavy equipment and transfer uranium hexafluoride. One emergency staircase reaches the bottom of the site and another one was not complete. The source said the emergency exit southwest of the site is unreachable.”

The report said that Iran’s regime considers the explosion to be a case of sabotage and believes the explosives “could have reached the area disguised as equipment or in the uranium hexafluoride stock transferred to the site… The explosion occurred at the third centrifuge chambers, with the high-grade enriched uranium reserves below them.”

On Friday, an Iranian diplomat who defected to Norway in 2010 warned that if the Iranians got the bomb they would use it against the Jewish state.

In an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 TV, Mohammad Reza Heydari, the former Iranian consul in Oslo who resigned and obtained political asylum there three years ago, said that ”If Iran is given more time, it will acquire the knowledge necessary to build a nuclear bomb within a year.” Asked whether it would use the bomb against Israel, he said: “If Iran gets to the point where it has an atomic bomb, it will certainly use it, against Israel or any other [enemy] country.”

Heydari — who defected soon after he was asked to identify his son in photos taken during the protests that followed the 2009 vote in which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was reelected — said the regime in Tehran was aiming to develop two or three bombs. It saw nuclear weapons as “insurance” to guarantee its survival.

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