The case of the Isfahan blast Monday, Nov. 28, is evidence of the knife-edge jitters in Tehran. First, the semi-official Fars news agency reported a powerful explosion had rocked Isfahan, 340 kilometers south of Tehran and home to a key nuclear plant. A short time later, the provincial governor denied any explosion had taken place. But he was too late. By then, the Western media was swamped with self-repeating reports of a blast near the plant manufacturing the UF6 gas for uranium enrichment centrifuges. In fact, the explosion was nowhere near the plant.
Had the reports been true, three things would have happened:
1. Tens of thousands of people living in the Isfahan metropolitan area which has a population of 3.5 million would have been seriously affected by poison gas fumes;
2. It would have counted as the second attack in three weeks on a nuclear-linked facility after the deadly explosion at the Al-Ghadir missile base near Tehran on Nov. 12.
3. The sudden shortage of UF6 would have shut down Iran's uranium enrichment production.
(See also a separate item in this issue on the plot to assassinate Ayatollah Khamenei).
But it turned out that Isfahan's citizens were unhurt and Iran's centrifuges continued to spin nonstop.
Once decided, Iran can build a bomb in nine months
The secret war waged by the US and Israel against Iran is also a war of nerves. Each side snatches the slightest occurrence as fodder for its psychological warfare for against the opposite camp without pausing to check its credibility.
The Isfahan mix-up betrays the level of stress current in Iran's ruling circles and on its streets where a form of spy mania is current, based on the conviction that a large body of Western spies, or Iranian double agents in their pay, has invaded every corner of Iran's military and nuclear officialdom.
The day after the Isfahan blast, Tuesday, Nov. 29 – and 2,000 kilometers away – a former Israeli military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin told a Tel Aviv audience that Iran has accumulated enough enriched uranium to build 4 to 5 nuclear bombs. He said their manufacture depended on nothing more than a decision by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to build them. Within nine months of such a decision, the Islamic Republic will be armed with a nuclear bomb.
Yadlin was certain the West and Israel have ample intelligence resources to discover if and when any such decision has been taken.
Although the retired officer said nothing new, his message supplemented the report IAEA Director Yukiya Amano released Nov. 8 which offered evidence that Iran was working on a nuclear weapons project.
It also supported the comments by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in a round of US television interviews this month ((Charlie Rose on the 17th and CNN on the 20th).
Israel is not waiting for a US green light
Barak said that the window of opportunity for striking Iran was closing steadily because within 6 to 9 months, its entire nuclear program would be hidden underground out of sight and beyond surveillance. It would then be impossible to know for sure what the Iranians were building there.
In another interview Thursday, Dec. 1, Barak responded to comments a few hours earlier by Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint US Chiefs of Staff, who admitted to differences in perspective between the US and Israel over the best way to handle Iran and its nuclear program.
Although the US was convinced that sanctions and diplomatic pressure was the right path, the general said, he knew the Israelis did not share that assessment. "Because they don’t and because this is an existential threat… our expectations are different right now." He was not sure that Israel would alert the US ahead of military action against Iran.
Barak replied: “The difference between us and the Americans is this: We say that because the Iranians are busy moving their nuclear program to underground facilities, they can announce this (that they have a nuclear weapon) after it is no longer possible to attack it." He went on to warn that if Israel is pushed into a corner, “it will have to act.”
Iran has not swerved one millimeter from its nuclear track
What they were all saying in a word is that Iran has already made the penultimate leap toward the goal of bringing a nuke within its grasp. Whichever way one looks at it, there is no escaping the conclusion that the West and Israel have failed – even by covert war – to abort Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon.
Every imaginable deterrent has been thrown at Tehran in the last decade – with the sole exception of direct military action: Vain, wearisome attempts at dialogue were followed by economic and technological sanctions, arms embargoes, financial penalties, thousands of straw companies set up to supply Iran with defective nuclear technology and equipment, assassinations of key nuclear scientists and the managed defection of others, cyber attacks on centrifuge and reactor control systems, the destruction of ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear warheads by explosions.
And this week, Britain's diplomatic-cum-intelligence slap in the face for Tehran.
Yet, notwithstanding the huge outlay of intelligence resources and treasure, unequalled since the Cold War's big game of the last century – in which Israel too played a key role – the Iranians never paused for long; nor did they drop their focus on the goal which is finally rushing toward consummation in the months to come.
Surprisingly, the ayatollahs took everything thrown at them without fighting back, either directly or covertly, except by words. To the West, this restraint looked odd. Why would a nation in command of large, highly-trained commando units, proxy militias and terrorist organizations, refrain from punching back at a massive campaign waged against its most cherished national program?
The unbeatable Persian carpet
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence and Iranian experts find the answer deep in the Iranian psyche rather than its politics. They call it “the Persian Carpet Doctrine.”
Iran watchers recall how Ali Larijani, Speaker of the Majlis and for many years Iran's senior nuclear negotiator with the West, used to gaze in wonder at US and Russian diplomats on the opposite side of the negotiating table when they ended a session by demanding quick answers from Tehran on the issues raised.
After a long silence, Larijani would say: “Weaving a fine Persian carpet without flaws takes at least a year, if not two. And you want an answer within a week? That’s not how we do things.”
This philosophy as applied to Iran's revolutionary rulers and their nuclear goal meant that once a decision is taken – and the carpet designed – nothing can turn them aside and, however long it takes, it will be brought to its predetermined conclusion.
They will patiently forge ahead, absorbing the sticks and arrows of the covert and economic wars waged against them without breaking stride, whether they are weaving a ‘nuclear carpet’ or a ‘religious Shiite carpet’ for exporting their revolution to the rest of the Muslim world.
Left now is the total devastation of Iran's nuclear sites – or regime change
Tehran is so confident of attaining its objectives that, even if the West and the Arab League succeed in overthrowing its senior ally Syrian ruler Bashar Assad, Iran doest no expect its Middle East interests and goals to be hurt as badly as Washington, London, Paris and Jerusalem calculate.
Assad's fall, for instance, would not automatically remove Hizballah's Hassan Nasrallah or lessen his stranglehold on Lebanon. It would not interrupt the work on Iran's nuclear and imperialist Persian carpets any more than did the international covert and military campaigns (such as the 2006 Israeli war on Hizballah).
It must be obvious by now that nothing less drastic than the total destruction of Iran's nuclear facilities by military attack, or regime change in Tehran, can get in the way of Iran's attainment of nuclear arms.
Iranian intelligence surmises that the latter course was attempted – and missed – at the Al-Ghadir missile base on Nov. 12.
The former course is still a matter of speculation.