- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Force is being used to attempt to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program. On Monday, an explosion rocked the city of Isfahan in western Iran, site of a conversion facility that prepares uranium for enrichment at other sites. Conflicting reports attributed the explosion to either an accident at a gas station or a military training incident, or they denied it even happened.

The blast came two weeks after Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Gen. Hasan Tehrani Moghaddam and 20 other IRGC members were killed in a massive explosion at a base near the village of Bidganeh, southwest of Tehran. The base was a test site for Iran’s ballistic missile program. Official sources said the blast was the result of an accident while munitions were being moved, but the general’s brother, Mohammad Tehrani Moghaddam, said it happened during a missile test. “It was related to an intercontinental ballistic missile,” he was quoted in the Iranian official press, “It was a completely high-tech, confidential process.” These comments were later scrubbed from the website where they first appeared.

The two explosions join a growing list of unusual and deadly events related to Iran’s secret weapons programs. In late June 2011, five Russian nuclear scientists who had been assisting Iran’s nuclear program died in a plane crash outside the northern Russian city of Petrozavodsk. In November 2010, Iranian nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari was killed in Tehran when a motorcyclist placed a bomb on the window of his car and sped away before it detonated. Another scientist, Fereydoun Abbasi, was wounded in an identical attack the same day. In August 2010, Reza Baruni, the mastermind of Iran’s top-secret military drone project, was killed when three explosions destroyed his house. The official version blamed a gas leak. The same day that Baruni died, three unmanned aerial vehicles launched from an unknown location smashed into the dome of Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactor, killing five. Tehran later claimed this incident was part of a readiness test.

Not all the attacks have been kinetic. The Stuxnet computer virus wreaked havoc on Iranian uranium enrichment facilities, and a new “supervirus” called Duqu has spread throughout Iran’s military computer network.

No country has claimed responsibility for the attacks, though most credit (or blame) Israel. After the blast at Bidganeh, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, “I don’t know the extent of the explosion, but it would be desirable if they multiplied.” Potential U.S. involvement is unclear, but President George W. Bush reportedly signed a presidential finding authorizing CIA paramilitary actions inside Iran against the IRGC. This authorization could still be in force. Last week, Tehran claimed to have uncovered a dozen CIA operatives working in Iran after a similar takedown of agency assets in Lebanon.

Some analysts have speculated that the attacks are not meant to halt Iranian weapons development but to goad Tehran into taking overt military action that could then be countered legitimately with force. If so, Iran has not taken the bait. With the international community torn between pursuing sanctions that won’t work and overt military action that could foment a large-scale crisis, the shadow war against Iran is likely to continue.