Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Arlene Kushner on Latest on the Explosion At Iran's Nuclear Enrichment Facility in Fordow

From Arlene Kushner:
January 29, 2013:

On the Brink of Chaos

Last I posted, I thought it was time for some upbeat news.  We all need that to sustain us.  But there is precious little that is "upbeat" regarding what I'm about to write here.  We are facing some very critical situations. 
In due course I will write further about the election results and the development of the coalition, with its closed-door negotiations and inter-faction tensions. But right now, that seems "small potatoes." 
You may have heard: "Something" has happened at Fordow, Iran's nuclear enrichment facility, some 300 feet beneath a mountain, near the holy Shi'ite city of Qom. 
Ahmadinejad tours nuclear plant
Credit: actforaustralia
What occurred was an explosion of some sort, either this past Monday or some days before.
I was reluctant to write about this sooner, as information that had come out was conflicting and incomplete.  But the time has come.
This first major question is, how much damage has been done?
An early report -- on the website -- was by Dr Ali Reza Nourizadeh, a senior researcher and director of the Centre for Arab & Iranian Studies in London.  He maintains many contacts in Iran, and indicated that little damage was done to the enrichment facility, which houses some 3,000 centrifuges and uranium that has been enriched to 20%.  Rather, the entrance was totally blocked, he said, trapping some 200 personnel inside.
A number of other reports, however, have cited one Reza Khalili -- which is the pseudonym for an Iranian from the Revolutionary Guards who defected to the CIA and is now in the US.  His source was Hamid Reza Zakeri, a former Iranian intelligence officer, who also defected but apparently maintains contacts in Iran.  
According to the Khalili reports, damage has been major.  (Was Nourizadeh reporting just what the Iranians wanted him to say?) The personnel who are trapped, including 14 North Koreans, have not been rescued, Khalili maintains, because of fear of releasing radioactive gases -- thus exposing the extent of the damage and risking the surrounding population of several thousand (would the Iranian leaders care?).
The latest report provides far more specificity, increasing the likelihood that it is legitimate.  Apparently there has been verification from an additional Iranian source, as well. An updated description of the situation says, in part:
"...five explosions occurred concurrently in the centrifuge chambers, two explosions in the uranium reserve enclosures and a subsequent explosion in the main hallway close to the exit...At the time of the explosions, a very bright red and purple light distorted the [camera] image and an extremely loud noise could be heard. Before the explosions knocked out the cameras, interior walls could be seen coming down within the centrifuge chambers. All the explosions seemed to have been initiated from the ceilings

"Approximately two hours after the explosions, counterintelligence agents arrived and, after interviewing personnel and reviewing tapes, initially concluded that explosives may have been placed in ceiling lamps with some kind of trigger mechanism controlled by a power voltage frequency."
So we're probably looking at something very big indeed, with implications that may be enormous.  We still need to know more, however, before we permit ourselves the luxury of feeling any hope that the Iranian nuclear development project has been stymied or badly set back. 
On the one hand, if it's true, for Israel to be free of the burden of having to take on Iran militarily before it reached that red line would be an immeasurable blessing. And yet, there are still implications and consequences to be dealt with.
The next question, of course, is who?  And all fingers point to Israel.  Naturally.  I can neither confirm nor deny this speculation, but will add something.  IF Israel was involved, it was most likely in concert with Iranians operating in the resistance. (The other, admittedly more remote possibility, is that it was just a resistance operation.)  For this was sabotage from inside, and almost certainly involved native Iranians on the ground. 
Whatever the damage, imagine how the Iranian leaders feel right now, knowing that the sabotage took place in a facility that was touted as impenetrable.  They are denying there has been an explosion, which is just what we might have expected. And they will maintain this fiction as long as they can.
As to how Iran might respond, here, again, I've read conflicting reports: That Iran will not retaliate against Israel right now, that Iran will utilize Hezbollah to launch an attack on Israel, or that Iran has requested of Nasrallah of Hezbollah that some Lebanese villages in the south be vacated so that the Revolutionary Guard might move in to wage a rocket attack.
All I can do is report this, having no further information or insight.  We are not in for an easy time, in any event.
For the record, Israeli intelligence has reported the explosion in Fordow, although it has provided no details that I've seen.  It wouldn't.
But in the US, Jay Carney, White House Spokesperson, said yesterday:
"We have no information to confirm the allegations in the report and we do not believe the report is credible."  
Of course they have information. This is an attempt to side step any suggestion of involvement so as to avoid reprisal attacks or complications in the US relationship with Iran.
What makes this all the more unsettling -- disconcerting? terrifying? -- is the concern, which I've written about before, that Syrian president Assad is about to collapse, so that his multiple caches of weapons of mass destruction may be seized by Hezbollah or other terrorist groups. There is one report that indicates Hezbollah has set up a camp near one of those caches, and, according to an unverified report in Lebanese news outlets, may already have their hands on some chemical weapons.
We are monitoring this very very carefully and with full intent to act as necessary.  Hezbollah must not walk away with those weapons.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has said the policy choices we face here are between "bad, bad, and worse."
Commenting on the situation, however, Obama has just said:
"In a situation like Syria, I have to ask, can we make a difference in that situation."  
It would appear that he has decided in the negative.  In that situation.
There are reports that Netanyahu has dispatched National Security Advisor Ya'akov Amidror to Russia for meetings on the issue of the Syrian weapons.  Russia is deeply invested in Syria.
Two Iron Dome batteries have been positioned in the north, against possible rocket attacks there.
Aside from the problems with Syria, we have increased violence occurring to our southwest -- in Egypt.  I will not deal with this in any detail here, but simply wish to note it.  There is question as to whether Morsi can hold out, in the face of growing unrest in this country.  There will be time to return to this.  Egypt does not represent an immediate threat, as Syria/Hezbollah do.
And to our east, Jordan's King Abdullah continues to walk a tightrope.  The king has worked towards a rapprochement with Hamas, in order to secure Hamas assistance in preventing the Muslim Brotherhood inside of Jordan from generating chaos.  Abdullah has just played host to Hamas politburo head Khaled Mashaal.  Time was that I thought of Jordan as moderate.  But Abdullah has had to move with the times or face losing his throne.
Abdullah gave a speech in Davos, Switzerland, last week, in which he said that Hamas appeared to be ready to live in peace next to Israel.  But on the "Palestine Today" website, a spokesman for Hamas shot this down, saying that
"The only relationship with this enemy is the resistance."
In the last few days:
  • In Hevron, in Judea, Arab stone throwers attacked a Jewish kindergarten.

  • A bus travelling north from Jerusalem was attacked by stone-throwing Palestinian Arabs.

  • In the Givat Shaul neighborhood of Jerusalem, an Arab attacked a Jew, and the incident ended up as a riot with Jews and Arabs facing off.

    Read: Palestinians attack Israeli bus, kindergarten; riots in Jerusalem

  • Border Police prevented a terror attack when they stopped three Arabs from the Balata refugee camp at the Tapuah junction in Samaria; searching their car, the police found eight pipe bombs a pistol and a knife.
So what we need is the strongest possible government, with its members working together to keep the Jews of Israel safe.  And may the Almighty give our leaders the strength and the wisdom to cope on many fronts.
A glimmer of hope:
"A distinguished group of fourteen retired generals and admirals, representing all branches of the United States Armed Forces, has signed a letter opposing the nomination of Sen. Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense.

"The letter – addressed to Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), respectively, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee – raises several concerns about the nomination of Sen. Hagel, including:
  • "Sen. Hagel’s support for further cuts to the defense budget...
  • "Sen. Hagel’s support for the global elimination of nuclear weapons...
  • "Sen. Hagel’s hostility towards Israel...  
  • "Sen. Hagel’s outlook towards Iran..." 
For full article and list of those who signed: Military leaders oppose Hagel nomination
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution. 
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