Is the West waging a covert war against Iran?

Iran called the Nov. 12 explosion at a key missile development center an accident. But there is increasing speculation that it was in fact part of a covert war against Iran.

Lee Jee-Eun/Yonhap/Reuters
Robert Einhorn, U.S. State Department's special adviser for non-proliferation and arms control, speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul December 5. Einhorn said on Monday the situation over Iran's nuclear program was becoming increasingly worrying and an urgent diplomatic solution needs to be found.

When an explosion leveled nearly every building at an Iranian long-range missile development center outside Tehran several weeks ago, Iranian officials said the destruction was caused by an accident.

Now, however, there is much speculation among Iran experts and intelligence analysts that the deadly incident may have been part of an American and Israeli covert war to prevent Iran from developing missiles and nuclear weapons.

“It looks like the 21st-century form of war,” said Patrick Clawson, the director of the Iran Security Initiative at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “It does appear that there is a campaign of assassinations and cyber war, as well as the semi-acknowledged campaign of sabotage."

Western intelligence officials have expressed grave concern of that Iran may be seeking to develop a nuclear weapon that could be fitted onto long-range missiles, and the Central Intelligence Agency has made clear that one of its objectives remains slowing the development of any weapons of mass destruction by Iran. But both American and Israeli officials have shown "little curiosity" about determining the cause of this latest explosion and steered clear of claiming or even suggesting responsibility, The New York Times reports.

“Anything that buys us time and delays the day when the Iranians might be able to mount a nuclear weapon on an accurate missile is a small victory,” a Western intelligence official involved in countering Iran’s nuclear program told the Times. “At this point, we’ll take whatever we can get, however it happens.”

The Los Angeles Times, however, notes a record of intentional efforts by Western countries to derail Iran's nuclear program.

For years, the U.S. and its allies have sought to hinder Iran's weapons programs by secretly supplying faulty parts, plans or software, former intelligence officials say. No proof of sabotage has emerged, but Iran's nuclear program clearly has hit obstacles that thwarted progress in recent years.
 "We definitely are doing that," said Art Keller, a former CIA case officer who worked on Iran. "It's pretty much the stated mission of the [CIA's] counter-proliferation division to do what it takes to slow … Iran's weapons of mass destruction program."

The missiles under development at the plant outside Tehran used solid fuel, which would have given them longer range. Israelis saw this as a particular threat, fearing that Iran would potentially use such missiles against the Jewish state. Israel’s Haaretz newspaper quoted a top official as saying that the explosion had delayed missile development inside Iran, but it was “far from halting all of Iran's military options.”

And Israel may well have reason to be concerned. The Christian Science Monitor reports that a news outlet in Iran last week published an epithet from what it said was the last will of the architect of Iran's missile program, "martyr" Maj. Gen. Hassan Moghaddam, which called for Israel's destruction.

"Write on my tombstone: This is the grave of the one who wanted to annihilate Israel," the obscure Student News Agency reported on Nov. 30, in apparent contradiction of the official line that Iran's missile program is purely defensive.

The decision to publish Moghaddam's final sentiments just a day after hundreds of ideological basiji militants stormed the British embassy – tearing down the Union Jack, stealing portraits of Queen Elizabeth II, and temporarily trapping six diplomats – will be seen by some in the West as further justification for conflict, or at least far harsher sanctions.

Indeed, several sources have implied that covert actions in Iran could be paving the way for a major attack against the Islamic nation.

“Every day American military strategists go through the different scenarios being developed for an all-out strike against Iran. But the offensive is already happening,” said a senior western intelligence source in Britain’s Daily Mirror.

Sanctions against Iran have often led to dangerous working conditions inside weapon-making facilities, so it remains entirely plausible that the explosion was indeed triggered by an accident, as Iranian officials have contested from the beginning.

Inside Iran, officials appear to have expressed little public concern over the incident. An article in Iran’s Independent News Service reported that General Hassan Firouzabadi, the Iranian armed forces chief of staff said that the incident had not caused any significant set backs to Iran’s missile program.

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