Decapitado o programa nuclear iraniano
Hassan Tehrani-Moghadam, grande responsável do programa de mísseis balísticos iranianos, não assistirá a qualquer concretização do ameaçador programa de ‘veículos’ para armas nucleares que concebeu e dirigiu. Uma explosão numa base de mísseis perto de Teherão pulverizou o misteriorso general dos ‘pasdarans’ (uma espécie de forças armadas paralelas, muito ligas e fiéis aos ayatolas e muito melhor armadas que as FA oficiais) e 16 dos seus colaboradores. Também a base ficou praticamente destruída, como os seus mísseis. “Acidente”, diz oficialmente Teherão. Como tinha dito “suicídio”, no caso de Ahmad Rezai (também muito ligado ao topo da estrutura ‘pasdaran’), encontrado morto num hotel do Dubai, no último sábado. A Stratfor analisa o quadro e operações de “Countering Iran in the Covert World” e procura responder à questão “Accident or Sabotage?”
Míssil Shahab-3 lançado a 28 Junho 2011, em Qoms
An explosion at a ballistic missile base near Tehran killed 17 people on Nov. 12. Among the victims was Brig. Gen. Hassan Moghaddam, reportedly the architect of the Iranian surface-to-surface missile program and the developer of the Shahab-3 medium range ballistic missile. While the significance of the base and the timing of the explosion suggest a possible act of sabotage, there are numerous ways an accidental explosion could have taken place.
An early afternoon explosion at a ballistic missile base near Tehran killed 17 people on Nov. 12. According to statements issued by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), one of the victims was IRGC Brig. Gen. Hassan Moghaddam, reportedly the architect of the Iranian surface-to-surface missile (SSM) program and the developer of the Shahab-3 medium range ballistic missile (MRBM). According to the Iranians, the explosion at the base resulted from an accident while troops were transferring munitions.
The IRGC reported the explosion as having occurred at a base in Bidganeh, near the town of Shahriar, some 45 kilometers (28 miles) west of Tehran. This points directly to the location of a ballistic missile base where the 5th Raad missile brigade, which operates Shahab-3 MRBMs, is reportedly stationed. This is almost certainly the general location of the explosion site. This base is part of an extensive Iranian SSM network, which also features major bases in Esfahan, Kermanshah, Mashad, Khosro Sahr, and Tabriz. The ballistic missile base in Bidganeh appears to contain a large missile storage complex, as well as numerous launch pads that are clearly visible by satellite. There have also been unconfirmed reports from Mujahideen-e-Khalq that further development of the Shahab missile is taking place in the base.
There are numerous possible explanations for an accidental explosion at the base — from mishandling of different types of munitions to perhaps an accident during the refueling of one of the volatile liquid-fueled missiles. The explosion could have occurred during preparations for a launch of a ballistic missile. It could also have resulted from a failed missile test launch — one meant either as a routine certification test or as a developmental experiment.
The IRGC has often fired ballistic missiles during tests or war games. The Shahab-3 MRBM, for instance, was tested numerous times before it entered operational service in 2003. Though the Shahab-3 failed a number of its initial missile tests (for instance in 1998, 2000, and 2002), the missile has passed a number of tests without incident since its introduction into service. Initial problems seem to have been ironed out and newer variants are known to be in development.
Given the size of the Iranian SSM network and the apparent lack of command facilities at the missile base, the presence of a reputed figure such as Moghaddam in the base is not routine. This increases the likelihood that special activity was taking place at the missile base — possibly another routine missile test, and perhaps even the testing of a new ballistic missile. Testing new types of ballistic missiles is dangerous. Numerous instances of failed missile launches have caused significant casualties, most notably the Oct. 24, 1960 death of Soviet Marshal of Artillery Mitrofan Nedelin during a failed test of the newly introduced R-16 ballistic missile. It is not inconceivable that Moghaddam died during a similar missile test mishap.
With increased tensions in the region as Iran works toward developing more advanced weapons, it is also possible that clandestine operations to sabotage the base are ongoing. Two unconfirmed explosions, kilometers apart, could indicate sabotage. Indeed, it is evident that a campaign of subterfuge, espionage, sabotage and assassination has targeted Iran’s weapons programs since at least 2007. Since 2010, the campaign against Iran’s nuclear and SSM network has intensified, recently including scientist assassinations and publicly known use of the Stuxnet worm.
Given the possible blowback from and disadvantages of a conventional strike against the Iranian nuclear and SSM network, the intelligence services of Israel, the United States or other allies may have elected to rely primarily on clandestine, plausibly deniable warfare. The latest explosion could be another example of such a campaign — though it is not clear, in this case, whether the attempt would have been directed at sabotaging Iran’s missile program, would have been meant as an assassination attempt targeting scientists, or would have explicitly targeted Moghaddam. Though the base is significant and the timing of the explosion highly suggestive of an act of sabotage, it is as yet unclear whether the latter is what occurred. While the explosions occurred in a particularly tense geopolitical environment in which covert action is a common tactic for both sides, an accident cannot be ruled out.
Director of Analysis Reva Bhalla examines how a recent chain of Iran-related events sheds light on the geopolitical environment in which Iran’s adversaries are operating.
Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.
A number of mysterious developments have occurred over the past several weeks concerning Iran that are unlikely to all be explained purely by coincidence. There is no clear line of evidence linking these events, but when you take a step back and look at what’s happening, you can not only get a strong sense of the constraints the U.S. and Israel continue to face in dealing with Iran but can also catch a glimpse of the quiet battle playing out in the covert world.
In early October, the U.S. government went public with an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States.
A few weeks later, leaks started coming out on a new IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) report providing fresh details on Iranian efforts toward a nuclear weapons program. The report formed the backdrop to an Israeli-led campaign calling for more effective action against Iran, ranging from more stringent sanctions to military action.
Then, in the early afternoon on Nov. 12, two explosions occurred at a missile base near Tehran, killing 17 people including a high-ranking IRGC commander. Iran has insisted the blast was accidental, but speculation has since spread that the explosion could have been part of a sabotage operation carried out by Israeli intelligence.
Later that evening, the Bahraini government went public with the discovery of an alleged plot involving at least five Bahrainis traveling through Syria and Qatar on a mission to carry out attacks against government and diplomatic targets in Bahrain. Iran vehemently denied it was involved and portrayed the plot as a fabrication, just as they responded to the alleged plot against the Saudi ambassador.
The next day, the Iranian press reported that Ahmad Rezai, the son of Mohsen Rezai, who is the secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council, a former IRGC commander and presidential contender, was found dead at a hotel in Dubai. The deputy head of the Expediency Council told the Iranian press that the son’s death was suspicious and caused by electric shocks, while other reports portrayed the death as suicide.
In trying to understand this thread of mysterious events, it is important to take a step back and understand the current geopolitical environment in the Persian Gulf. The United States is just weeks away from officially completing its withdrawal from Iraq, but it is leaving behind a power vacuum that Iran has been patiently waiting to fill. Iran intends to exploit this opportunity to not only consolidate its position in Iraq, but intimidate its Arab neighbors into accommodating Iran on a number of strategic issues. Such intimidation tactics are likely to involve the heavy use of Iranian covert assets.
Part of Iran’s confidence can be explained by the lack of containment options that the U.S., Israel and the GCC states are contemplating against Iran. Any sanctions campaign is going to be full of loopholes that can be exploited by Iran, its allies and profit seekers in the market. A conventional military strike against Iran would have to neutralize Iran’s hardened nuclear sites, its air defenses and asymmetric warfare capabilities dispersed along the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz. This is a task that cannot be performed by Israel alone, and would carry enormous global economic consequences given Iran’s retaliatory option of mining the Strait of Hormuz to disrupt 40 percent of the world’s sea-borne crude.
But Iran isn’t working free of constraints, either, especially when it comes to battling its adversaries in the covert world. Iran has already admitted that its nuclear program was targeted by the Stuxnet worm, a cyberweapon developed most likely by U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies with the aim of slowing down Iran’s nuclear weapons program. In recent days, Iran has also publicly admitted that it has been facing fresh cyber attacks from a new virus called Duqu, reportedly designed to collect information from Iranian computer systems. Iran has also been the victim of a series of assassination, kidnapping and defection cases involving Iranian nuclear scientists.
Just as Iran compensates for its conventional military weaknesses with a robust covert capability, the United States and Israel have attempted to work around the constraints of their containment strategies against Iran by focusing their resources on various sabotage campaigns. This doesn’t mean that every single suspicious event involving Iran can be traced back to a cloak and dagger, but this is exactly the geopolitical environment in which one would expect such covert operations to intensify.