The Iranian exile group’s exposure on Feb. 20 of Iran’s secret B1 Nori-8500 facility for producing a nuclear warhead at Khojir represented another attempt by France and Israel to shoot down the American National Intelligence Estimate of Dec. 2007.
That document claimed Iran had given up its covert military nuclear program in 2003. In Brussels, Wednesday, Mohammad Mohaddessin, foreign affairs director of the exiled National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), presented the media with satellite images, graphic evidence of a functioning Iranian defense ministry missile research site at Khojir on the southeastern edge of Tehran.
There, he reported, Iran is developing a nuclear warhead for delivery by its medium-range missiles.
Mohaddessin also said his clandestine group had identified a guest house on a military compound near the site, which it claimed housed North Korean specialists working at the warhead facility. He stressed that the information had been confirmed in recent weeks and was current.
This classified data, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report, was released on the initiative of France and Israel to finally rebut the NIE’s conclusions.
It was also timed to pre-empt the report Dr. Mohammed ElBaradei, director of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is due to present Friday, Feb. 22, to the UN Security Council on the state of Iran’s nuclear program.
Paris and Jerusalem have been reliably informed that the IAEA director will present his usual vapid, inconclusive findings. He will then ask the Council for more time for negotiations with Iran and a further delay before passing harsh punitive measures against the Islamic Republic.
North Koreans shown bussed to work
The NCRI spokesman’s information broke new ground:
1. While his organization first identified Khojir in 2005 as the new site of the B1 Nori 8500 missile facility transferred from Lavizan, its report that a small plant on the site is developing nuclear warheads is new.
2. Also new are the satellite photos depicting a well-fortified villa and a special bus carrying its North Korean occupants every morning under heavy guard to the secret site, and back again at the end of the working-day. Mohaddessin said he was holding back images obtained which identified the North Korean specialists.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence experts report that such images are withheld because they might give away the covert methods for obtaining them.
According to our sources, the Iranian exile group is first tipped off on the presence of key data by US, Israeli or French intelligence contacts and asked to send its spies and followers inside Iran to check it out.
After confirmation is received, the data is cross-checked.
In the next stage, the NCRI rents a commercial satellite for imagery of the suspect nuclear sites for public consumption. This system worked in 2002, when NCRI was employed by US intelligence to bring the existence of Iran’s uranium enrichment facility at Natanz to the world’s attention.
Sensitive photographs, such as the faces of North Korean scientists and technicians at Khojir, can only be obtained by military satellites equipped with sophisticated high resolution cameras, such as those deployed by the secret services cooperating with the Iranian exile group. These images are never released to outsiders, because they would betray ultra-sensitive information about the equipment and angles from which the photographs were taken. Such information would also help targets develop new techniques of concealment.
Therefore, the NCRI and other dissident groups operating in Iran are only given photos which have been smudged to conceal their source. They are handed out among agents in the country to help them find out more about targeted individuals and trace their movements.
Washington sticks to the NIE’s clearance of Iran
3. The commercial satellite images displayed at the Brussels news conference depicted a system of heavy security within the Khojir site, and restricted access to the putative nuclear warhead facility, known as “Eight-five hundred”.
Visitors to the facility are required to leave their cars and drivers at a car park, Mohaddessin explained. They are then picked up by a car which passes through two checkpoints onto a road that ends at a small group of buildings cut into the hills a couple of kilometers away.
4. The Iranian exile group almost certainly has more secret data which it is holding back for a later date, or when necessary to rebut more negative releases by US intelligence or the nuclear watchdog. This data would back up the charges that Iran is developing nuclear weapons and vehicles for their delivery.
But even before the day was over, Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in Washington, said the US intelligence community’s view has not changed since the NIE’s release.
Clearly, the Bush administration has no intention of checking out the Iranian group’s revelations or reopening the discussion on Tehran’s nuclear activities.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources comment that Washington’s response did not surprise Nicolas Sarkozy or Ehud Olmert, who were instrumental in bringing the NCRI’s disclosures to the world in Brussels on Wednesday.
Convinced that the US intelligence estimate of last December tied President George W. Bush’s hands for a military option against Iran’s nuclear sites, the French and Israeli leaders decided to go forward without America towards an Israeli military operation. France intends to take America’s place in providing intelligence and diplomatic backing in the European and international arenas.
Hizballah plans to precipitate the opening for an Iranian attack on Israel
The chronology of events leading up to this ultimate prospect, as listed by DEBKA-Net–Weekly, is instructive:
September 6, 2007: Israeli air and ground forces raided two presumed nuclear sites in Syria. North Koreans were involved in their development.
The information broadcast by these attacks was that Israel is capable of striking nuclear sites similar to Iran’s B1 Nori 8500 facility. This capability demonstratively extends to demolition and removing the equipment housed at the facility, lock, stock and barrel, to home base.
The operation also demonstrated that the Russian air defense systems guarding Iran’s most sensitive military sites were electronically permeable and therefore not proof against Israel air attack.
January 17, 2008: Israel tested a ballistic missile over the Mediterranean fitted with a powerful new propulsion engine. This told Tehran that the Israel Defense Forces has missiles capable of reaching any point on earth. Before this test, the Iranians had judged large areas of their north and east outside Israeli missile range.
February 4, 2008: Tehran quickly responded by launching its Kavoshgar-1 long-range missile “to test its launching systems.”
February 12, 2008: Imad Mughniyeh, master of Tehran’s overseas military-terrorist branch, was killed in the heart of Damascus. Iran thus lost the key strategist assigned with charting and commanding its overseas reprisals for a possible Israeli attack.
That day, too, Israel took the precaution of placing its military forces and intelligence services on the ready in case of a comeback from Iran, Syria, or Hizballah.
February 20, 2008: Iran’s secret plants for producing nuclear weapons and warheads were identified and exposed at the Brussels news conference.
For the last six months, tensions around Iran and its nuclear activities can be seen by these events to have steadily escalated.
Also on Feb. 20, the Israeli chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi commented dryly at the graduation ceremony of an IDF officers’ training course: “Unfortunately, I cannot promise that we will not be caught up in a tough ordeal in the near future.”
His comment gained little attention.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources report that Ashkenazi was alluding to current predictions of a Hizballah attack on Israel, both to avenge the death of its military commander and to draw Israel into a conflict to precipitate Iran’s intervention for a pre-emptive strike against the Jewish state.
Our sources in Paris analyze Sarkozy’s rationale for pursuing a proactive course on Iran alongside Israel: He believes an unambiguous and strong French line on Iran’s ambition to attain a nuclear bomb could be the vehicle that carries him to European if not world leadership.
Secondly, he is bound by a commitment to Saudi and other Gulf rulers.
During his mid-January tour of their region, Sarkozy informed his hosts that French intelligence had obtained incontrovertible evidence that Iran had begun building nuclear bombs and warheads. The decision to establish a French base in Abu Dhabi was presented as necessary for tracking Iran’s nuclear and military activities. He promised to keep Gulf rulers abreast of events with full updates.
At home, the French public had been told repeatedly by officials in the president’s bureau and government from the end of last year that Iran is heading for a nuclear bomb. Sarkozy needs to show he is not all talk, but also capable of action.