When it comes to their nuclear weapons program, all public utterances Islamic Republic of Iran’s officials are to be taken with a pinch of salt. But, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources, the sprawling Parchin military complex just outside Tehran is producing much more than a single forbidden weapon.
Iranian defense minister Admiral Ali Shamkhani was not exactly lying when he maintained this week that International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors had found no evidence at Parchin to verify American suspicions that Iran is using an inert core of depleted uranium to try to make a bomb. The IAEA inspectors confirmed they had found no smoking gun – although European laboratories will take several weeks to test the air and soil samples collected there.
But what was there to find when the inspection was staged-managed and confined to a small, carefully isolated corner of the complex?
And, anyway, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources, the materials used by Iranian engineers, supervised by colleagues from China, North Korea and Pakistan, have no traceable radioactive signature.
Nevertheless, the international inspectors are not quite satisfied. They have demanded a fresh look at the site and a chance to test another part of the military complex from which they were barred.
Unlike the admiral, foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi did stretch the truth when he declared there was no illegal activity whatsoever at the site.
He forgot to mention the Parchin complex sections concealed from the view of the nuclear inspectors which house a beehive of round-the-clock activity on warheads, capable of carrying a nuclear, biological or chemical payload for fitting on the tips of Iran’s Shahab-3 and Shahab-4 ballistic missiles.
Scatter and conceal
From the moment that Parchin was first exposed as the site of nuclear activity, Tehran managed to hold off nuclear watchdog inspections and won seven months’ grace to shift all its banned chemical testing and production facilities to new locations. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report the incriminating plant was divided among three towns spread out far from each other.
A mustard gas production plant was transferred to Arak in central Iran and is operating as a wing of a large petrochemical factory in the city. The new facility’s buildings, some of which are underground, were engineered especially to escape detection by spy satellites and drones.
A sarin gas production factory was moved to the northwestern town of Tabriz in Azerbaijan Province.
A biophysical and biochemistry research facility was transferred to Kermanshah in southwestern Iran, near the Iraqi border. Engineers at the center who are members of Revolutionary Guards ground units are trying to fit chemical or biological warheads on to Zelzal ground-to-ground missiles, which have a range of 450 km (270 miles). It is unclear how much progress they have made, but our sources say Syria is waiting for the experiments to be finished and has placed a batch of Zelzals on order.
Iran has yet to reply. But Revolutionary Guards special plainclothes units in the South Lebanese port of Sidon maintain and guard 16 of these missiles and are on call as launch crews.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources, the Iranians at Kermanshah are being helped by North Korean engineers to produce sarin or mustard gas warheads for assembly on Shahab-3 missiles. This project is still at the beginning. Three missile experts from China’s missile and heavy artillery research center are also on hand at the facility.
All of Iran’s forbidden weapons programs add up to an alarming development: the Islamic Republic is well on the way to producing the entire range of weapons of mass destruction that the United States could not find in Iraq.
Too forthcoming for the hardliners
Seen from the West, the regime’s consent to the IAEA inspections in Parchin was a smart move. At Iran’s national security council, a pawn of the hardline supreme leader Ali Khameini, it sparked controversy.
At its last meeting, Ali Akbar Velayati, a presidential candidate and former foreign minister who now serves as Khamenei’s adviser on international affairs, opposed the decision to let the IAEA get its foot through the door at Parchin. Shamkhani defended the move, arguing that by pretending to be flexible, Tehran had gained a diplomatic edge over the United States, showing Washington to be led by the nose by rumors and disinformation disseminated by the Iranian dissident group-in-exile, Mujahideen al-Khalq. Velayati countered that opening Parchin to inspection was a dangerous precedent that would force Iran to bow to any future demands for spot inspections at all its suspect military sites, even before the Additional Protocol to the Treaty of Non-Proliferation was ratified.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources report that elite American troops have made repeated attempts to penetrate Iran from Afghanistan to hunt for nuclear and chemical weapons sites. So far they have been driven back when no more than three kilometers across the border. What they have done in recent months is to step up satellite surveillance of Iran and the dispatch of information-gathering drones. One such unmanned reconnaissance aircraft crashed a month ago over Arak, where the construction of a heavy water plan has been completed and chemical and biological experiments are conducted.