Updated: January 28 13:09
YNET in Israel today published a story that seems to confirm earlier reports by the US based website WND and The Times of Israel about a giant blast that supposedly destroyed much of the undergrond uranium enrichment plant in Fordow Iran.
The WND story was based on a report by an unnamed Iranian intelligence officer who said that the explosion occurred last Monday and trapped about 240 personnel deep underground.
YNET based its story on a Times report by Sheera Frankel. She wrote that she spoke with unnamed Israeli intelligence officials in Tel Aviv.
This story is not accessible online but we received a copy. You can read that below.
The Times however, was exposed earlier as a not so reliable source for information about the Iranian secret nuclear program.
Here is what we wrote at the time about Frankel’s reporting:
“Frenkel reports that a second nuclear facility in Iran has exploded, and that the blast struck an uranium enrichment facility.
It is obvious that this is not true. The first blast in Iran that made the headlines, occurred two weeks ago in Bidganeh. It is now clear that this explosion took place on an air force base during tests with a long range missile, probably a Sjejjil 3 intercontinental ballistic missile.
This has been confirmed by Mohammed Teherani Moghaddam the brother of the senior Revolutionary Guard commander who was in charge with the Iranian missile defense, and who was killed in the explosion. So the first blast didn’t involve any nuclear facility.
As for the uranium enrichment facility. There is no such facility in Isfahan. Isfahan is a conversion plant where yellowcake is converted to hexafluoride, or UF6, and other compounds. This is then sent to Natanz, where the enrichment takes place.”
Meanwhile we will try to get additional information from sources in and outside Iran and keep you updated.
The Jerusalem Post just published an article with additional information about the blast in Fordow. JPost interviewed Reza Khalili a former CIA agent who wrote the WND report. He told JPost the following:
“Asked why satellite imagery was not being released of rescue efforts at Fordow, Kahlili said only state intelligence agencies have access to live satellite feeds.
“Why don’t they put it out? My only assumption is that no one wants to take credit because of what the consequences could be by the regime,” he said. “This is a very sensitive time. I’m sure that soon, very soon, more information will leak out. Chatter will get loud enough to provide further information.”
Kahlili went on to say that the “first suspicion is Israel” within the Islamic Republic. “I have verified information that there was a meeting [called by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei.
A decision was made to act in Lebanon. A request was made to [Hezbollah chief Hassan] Nasrallah to vacate southern Lebanese villages. Islamic Republic Guards are on their way there. A decision has been made to prepare for missile launch from a certain area in Lebanon against Israel,” he said.
Khalili said one of the sources who initially leaked information of the blast came from within the security forces guarding Fordow, adding that precise information of the attack was not being released in order to protect the source. “The source has been collaborating for a long time,” he said. A second source came from the Iranian Intelligence Ministry, he said, adding that it was very difficult to safely get information out of Iran.
Iranian authorities have not yet made any progress in their attempt to enter Fordow, Kahlili asserted, adding, “I fear there is radiation involved.” Iran’s defense ministry dispatched drilling vehicles, “the same they used to carve tunnels and create underground facilities, to see if they can make any headway in opening emergency exists, because they collapsed. Among those stuck in the facility are dozens of foreign nationals. These are contracted scientists,” he said.
Kahlili said a second mysterious blast occurred in Tehran last week, at an IRGC base called “21 Hamza.” “There are injuries, and there have been arrests of IRGC members who are being questioned. The Intelligence Ministry suspects sabotage,” he added.”
Sheera Frankel Times report about the Fordow blast:
An explosion is believed to have damaged Iran’s Fordow nuclear facility, which is being used to enrich uranium, Israeli intelligence officials have told The Times. Sources in Tel Aviv said yesterday that they thought the explosion happened last week. The Israeli Government is investigating reports that it led to extensive structural damage and 200 workers had been trapped inside.
Israel believes the Iranians have not evacuated the surrounding area. It is unclear whether that is because no harmful substances have been released, or because Tehran is trying to avoid sparking panic among residents.
The Fordow plant is buried deep underground inside a mountain near the holy city of Qom. It is thought to be Iran’s most heavily fortified facility and is regarded as impervious to Israeli airstrikes. Many of Fordow’s 2,700 nuclear centrifuges are stored hundreds of feet below ground in bunkers.
One Israeli official said: “We are still in the preliminary stages of understanding what happened and how significant it is.” He did not know, he added, if the explosion was “sabotage or accident”, and refused to comment on reports that Israeli aircraft were seen near the facility at the time of the explosion.
WND, the American right-wing website that first reported the explosion, claimed it had happened last Monday, one day before Israeli elections. The website said that Hamidreza Zakeri, a former employee of Tehran’s Ministry of Intelligence and National Security who now lives in exile, had confirmed that Fordow had been hit.
“The blast shook facilities within a radius of three miles. Security forces have enforced a no-traffic radius of 15 miles,” the report said. These claims could not be verified last night.
Last year Tehran sought to double its capacity at Fordow to boost the amount of 20 per cent enriched uranium it could produce. Uranium enriched to 20 per cent fuels Iran’s main research reactor, but it is also just below the level useable in nuclear bombs. Avi Dichter, the Israeli Home Front Defence Minister, said: “Any explosion in Iran that doesn’t hurt people but hurts Iran’s assets is welcome.”
In briefings given recently to The Times, Israeli intelligence officers provided satellite imagery that showed new fortifications had been built around Fordow’s perimeter. “This is already Iran’s most heavily fortified facility,” one officer said. He added that while there were larger facilities, intelligence estimates suggested that nuclear scientists at Fordow were producing medium-enriched uranium, which could be converted to bomb grade.