Second huge blast in 20 days at Iranian nuclear facility

Iranians continue to pretend they are not under attack. But about those rockets landing in Galilee?

LAST UPDATED AT 10:07 ON Wed 30 Nov 2011

WHAT'S HAPPENED?

It has emerged that an Iranian nuclear facility in the city of Isfahan was rocked by a massive explosion on Monday afternoon, 24 hours before the British Embassy fracas in Tehran stole the headlines. The blast caused tower blocks to shake in the city and a large pall of smoke to hang over the uranium conversion facility on the outskirts of Isfahan, according to The Times.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

This is the second time in the space of 20 days that such a site has been hit by a mysterious blast. On November 12 a massive explosion at the Bid Ganeh missile base (pictured above) on the outskirts of Tehran killed up to 30 members of the Revolutionary Guard, including General Hassan Moghaddam, the architect of Iran's missile programme.

The latest incident suggests that Iran's nuclear facilities are now coming under a concerted attack. The question is whether Israeli forces had a hand in either blast.

An Israeli intelligence source has told The Times that there was "no doubt" that the plant at Isfahan was struck deliberately on Monday and that the attack had "caused damage to the facilities [there], particularly to the elements we believe were involved in the storage of raw materials". The source refused to say whether Israel had been involved.

The Iranian authorities have yet to issue an official line on the blast. An initial claim by Isfahan's governor Alireza Zaker-Isfahani stated that it was the result of a military exercise in the area, but this report was quickly removed by the state-run news agency, and the government then issued a denial that anything at all had happened.

There were similar conflicting messages following the November 12 incident. Initially, the Iranian military blamed the blast on an accident. "My dear colleagues in the Revolutionary Guards were moving munitions in one of the arsenals at that base when, due to an incident, the explosion happened," a spokesman said. But Tehran subsequently claimed they had been testing a missile with which to strike Israel.

Many observers have suggested that Mossad was behind that and other attacks, including a strike in October 2010 on a base at Khoramabad, 300 miles southwest of Tehran, which killed 18 Revolutionary Guards.

The amount of immediate information that Israel has had of the attacks would suggest Mossad involvement. As has the nod-and-a-wink approach of some Israeli officials. Dan Meridor, the Israeli intelligence minister, told reporters after the Isfahan blast: "There are countries who impose economic sanctions and there are countries who act in other ways in dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat."

WHAT'S NEXT?

The Iranians continues to deny the existence of a nuclear weapons programme in the face of last month's International Atomic Energy Agency report. The question is how long Tehran will continue to put up up a smokescreen around these blasts - and how long before they retaliate.

Or have they already hit back? That's a theory put forward by Time's Karl Vick. He points out that a few hours after the Isfahan blast, four 122mm Katyusha rockets launched from southern Lebanon landed in Israel's northern Galilee region. Southern Lebanon is controlled by Hezbollah, a client of Iran. "If the timing was a coincidence," says Vick, "it was a nice-sized one: there's been no attack like it for more than two years." · 

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