Was there a major explosion at Iran’s Fordow nuclear facility? Iran says no. Israeli intel officials say yes. Mystery deepens.

Satellite photo of the Fordow uranium enrichment facility near Qom, Iran. What really happened there last week?

Satellite photo of the Fordow uranium enrichment facility near Qom, Iran. What really happened there last week?

Last week, Reza Kahlili — a former Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps officer who became a double-agent for the CIA — reported the following: “An explosion deep within Iran’s Fordow nuclear facility has destroyed much of  the installation and trapped about 240 personnel deep underground, according to a former intelligence officer of the Islamic regime. The previously secret nuclear site has become a center for Iran’s nuclear  activity because of the 2,700 centrifuges enriching uranium to the 20-percent level. A further enrichment to weapons grade would take only weeks, experts say….The blast shook facilities within a radius of three miles. Security forces have  enforced a no-traffic radius of 15 miles, and the Tehran-Qom highway was shut  down for several hours after the blast, the source said. As of Wednesday  afternoon, rescue workers had failed to reach the trapped personnel.”

Not a single major media outlet in Iran, Israel, the U.S. or elsewhere reported on the story at the time, much less confirmed it. Iranian officials flat out denied there had been any explosions. This led to concern that Kahlili’s report was unreliable and that this was all mere rumor.

Now, however, Israeli security and intelligence officials are indicating that there was, in fact, such an explosion. They’re not taking credit for it, mind you. But they seem to be happy about it. “Israeli intelligence officials have confirmed that a major explosion has rocked an Iranian nuclear facility, according to a report Monday in The Times of London,” reports the Times of Israel. “The British daily cited officials in Tel Aviv who said the blast occurred last week, as originally reported on the website wnd.com. Iran is not believed to have evacuated the area surrounding the Fordo plant, according to the same Israeli sources, who said that an investigation into the blast was ongoing. ‘We are still in the preliminary stages of understanding what happened and how significant it is,’ one Israeli official told the London Times. He did not know if the explosion was ‘sabotage or accident’ and refused to comment on reports that Israeli aircraft were seen near Fordo at the time of the blast. On Sunday, two senior Iranian officials dismissed reports of the explosion. Deputy head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Agency Seyyed Shamseddin Barbroudi said there had been no explosion at the Fordo facility whatsoever, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency. The chairman of the Iranian parliament’s Committee for Foreign Policy and National Security, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, referred to rumors of the blast as ‘Western-made propaganda’ and said they were ‘baseless lies’ meant to impact ongoing talks on Iran’s nuclear program, reported IRNA.”

Over the weekend, Avi Dichter, Minister of Israel’s Home Front Defense Command and former head of the Shin Bet (Israel’s FBI), welcomed the news. “Any explosion in Iran that doesn’t hurt people but hurts its assets is welcome,” he said.

The German newspaper Die Welt also reports a major explosion did happen, at some 190 workers were injured or killed.

If such an explosion really happened, was it an accident, or sabotage? If it was a covert operation, was it was run by Israel, or by the U.S.? For now, it’s a mystery, and a fascinating one at that. As I wrote about in my e-book last fall, covert ops have played a major role in damaging Iran’s nuclear program in recent years. The success of these operations have, at time, reduced the need for a full-blown war to neutralize the Iranian program. What does 2013 hold? It’s too soon to say, but the plot is already beginning to thicken.

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