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Who Spread Reports of an 'Explosion' at Iran's Fordow Nuclear Plant and Why?

According to the report, the explosion in Fordow seriously damaged many of the centrifuges in the plant and trapped underground 240 employees who have yet to be rescued. But if this is true, why have the major news networks dismissed it?

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

The Internet has been abuzz over the last couple of days with an uncorroborated report regarding a huge explosion in the underground uranium enrichment plant at Fordow in Iran. According to the report, the explosion seriously damaged many of the centrifuges in the plant and trapped underground 240 employees who have yet to be rescued.

If this is true, it will be the most serious sabotage caused yet to the Iranian nuclear program. If this is true.

The main problem with the report is that no supporting evidence has appeared so far from any reliable sources to corroborate it, nor have verifiable statements been released from an official source in Iran or any other country.

Most main Western news organizations with contacts and sources in the intelligence community have steered well away from the story. (In Israel, only the tabloid Yedioth Ahronoth, which splashed the story on the front page of its Sunday edition, took notice of the story.)

By Monday morning, a few respectable media organizations seemed to be taking the news more seriously than when it first emerged, but carried little information or details that could verify the report.

The Times of London reported that an "Israeli official" had acknowledged that there had been an incident at Fordow and that the Israeli government was still investigating the situation. The German daily Die Welt confirmed the report from a "source in the Iranian intelligence service." The U.S. media, meanwhile, quoted an administration source who doubted the credibility of the report, and the deputy chairman of Iran's nuclear energy commission on Sunday night also denied the report.

Perhaps it’s the identity of the report's author which leads to the disbelief: Reza Kahlili, an Iranian exile with an interesting past who is well known to many reporters covering intelligence and Iranian affairs. He published the report on the explosion, which apparently took place on Monday, the eve of the Israeli elections, on World News Daily, a veteran website with close contacts to the far-right in the United States. Kahlili himself is a frequent speaker at events organized by right-wing organizations and those that support the right in Israel. It's not hard to realize why. In an interview he gave Haaretz two years ago, upon the publication of his book "A Time To Betray", Kalili set out a worldview on Iran that was surprisingly similar to that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He also compared the regime in Tehran to that of the Nazis, and called upon Israel to bomb Iran's nuclear installations.

Kahlili's book tells his story as a young Iranian man who studied in the United States and returned to his homeland following the Islamic revolution with the belief that Ayatollah Khomeini was a force for positive change. He joined the Revolutionary Guard, but after a few years lost faith. He volunteered to spy for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and for a few years collected information in Iran. In the late 1980s he was taken out of Iran along with his wife and has since lived in the United States.

In recent years, he has made a living writing and giving talks on Iran, claiming to still have an impressive network of sources in various government agencies. To this day, in his public appearances he will not reveal his face, for fear of retribution, and appears with a baseball cap, dark glasses and a surgical mask. (His employment by the CIA has been confirmed by Agency sources and an approving review of his book even appeared on the CIA website.)

Not for nothing have the major news organizations ignored Kahlili's Fordow report. Beyond his questionable credibility, there is no supporting evidence. If a large explosion did occur at Fordow a week ago, why have no satellite photos appeared of dozens of vehicles on the site involved in rescue operations? And if there are 240 workers trapped underground, how come no worried relatives have expressed concern on one of the social networks? Iran may have a repressive regime, but tens of millions of citizens are connected to the Internet and are experts at evading the regime's attempts to monitor and filter their communications. Something would have come out by now.

Even assuming one of the intelligence agencies engaged in the silent war against Iran - the CIA, Mossad, MI6 or any other - was capable of placing a large explosive device in the secure underground facility still under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency, without leaving an incriminating trail, such an operation would have been the closest thing to declaring war. Would the governments of the west have taken such a risk while it they still believe that Iran can be convinced to stop enriching uranium through a combination of sanctions and diplomatic engagement.

In a phone-interview with Haaretz (Kahlili used a voice-distorting device), he insisted that his information was accurate and based on his "several sources in the Revolutionary Guards, government offices and [Supreme Leader] Khamenei's office." He admitted to frustration over the mainstream media's lack of reaction to this report and said: "I have revealed many facts about the regime and its secret work and months later major news networks picked it up."

Among his recent revelations that have not attracted attention are two new enrichment installations that he claims are being operated with Russian cooperation and use laser technology. He volunteered another scoop: following the Fordow explosion, he claims, meetings were held between Revolutionary Guard commanders and Hassan Nasrallah, in which Hezbollah was ordered to evacuate a number of villages in south Lebanon, to prepare for an attack on Israel.

He is totally convinced that in the coming weeks, additional information will emerge and the regime's retaliation will confirm his version.

Follow me on Twitter @AnshelPfeffer

The Fordow nuclear facility under construction inside a mountain located about 20 miles north northeast of Qom, Iran. Credit: AP

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