A massive explosion which killed one of Iran’s top missile experts has led to conflicting reports, suspicion of sabotage, and increasing fear on the part of Iranians that Israel is poised to attack nuclear facilities outside Tehran.
The blast took place on Saturday, killing Hasan Moghaddam, a senior official of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Self-Reliance unit and professor at Tehran University, as well as at least 16 others. Iranian news agencies reported the blast – which shattered windows in nearby buildings and was felt 25 miles away in central Tehran – occurred accidentally during a transport at a military munitions depot in Bidganeh, outside Shariar. Iranian officials also insisted that the enormous explosion was not the result of an attack on the facility.
However, an Iranian exile group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) claimed the explosion crippled a Revolutionary Guards’ missile base rather than an ammunition depot. According to the group, the base is a storage facility for the Shahab-3, Iran’s most advanced long-range ballistic missile. While official Iranian reports indicated a single blast was responsible for the earthquake-like shaking in Tehran and hours-long fire which erupted in Bidganeh, witnesses report having heard two explosions. The number of paramedics admitted to the base to attend to the wounded was severely restricted, and initial reports of 27 dead were later downgraded to 17.
The explosion comes on the heels of the just released UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report which strongly indicates that Iran is actively working to build nuclear weapons.
Iranian officials have stepped up diatribes against the Jewish State as Israel increasingly warns that it is considering taking military action against Iran. In response to recent statements by President of Israel Shimon Peres that Israeli pre-emptive strikes are “more and more likely”, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad compared Israel to a failed kidney transplant, stating “yes, it will collapse and its end will be near”. Senior Iranian cleric Ayatollah Alavi compared Israel to a “screaming cat” trapped in a corner, and warned that Israel would face a “crushing response” if it strikes Iran.
Despite such responses from Iranian leaders, increasing speculation regarding an imminent Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities has led to a degree of panic among Iranian nationals. Voice of Israel radio reported Sunday that Iranians holding additional foreign passports are fleeing Iran out of fear that Israel is preparing to attack.
A report by Britain’s The Telegraph newspaper states that Prime Minister of Israel Binyamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak refused to guarantee US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that Israel would keep the US abreast of any Israeli plans regarding Iran. The three met briefly last month to discuss the then upcoming release of findings by the IAEA that Iran’s nuclear program is malicious and on the brink of weapons readiness. In the meeting, Defense Secretary Panetta requested a promise from Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak that they would inform the United States in the event of a forthcoming Israeli airstrike. When they refused, US President Obama ordered intensified monitoring of Israel by US intelligence services, according to The Telegraph.
On Sunday, the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem included a briefing about the IAEA report. During the meeting, Prime Minister Netanyahu confirmed that Iran’s nuclear goal is to create an atomic bomb which “threatens the well-being of the entire world”.