Where Have All Iran’s Covert Military Facilities Gone?

Israel intelligence sources confirm one piece of data in the National Intelligence Estimate released Dec. 3 – namely, that Iran suspended its military nuclear program in 2003. But they also insist it was re-started in 2006. When Israel put this information before the Americans, it was shrugged off as “low value.”

Those sources told DEBKA-Net-Weekly: “The National Intelligence Estimate’s compilers can say what they like, but we can see Iran’s covert facilities. We know where they are located and can tell what is happening there.”

By seeing, say those experts, they are referring to the data gathered by Israel’s spy satellites as they pass over Iran.

Israel’s surveillance capabilities by air and ground are not the only source of information. At least three European spy agencies, the French, German and Dutch, have enough data to disprove the NIE’s conclusions.

Another Israeli intelligence source stressed: “The two-way intelligence partnership between the US and Israel is not one between equals. Israel hands over large batches of data, everything it has on some subjects, but the US is not so generous, especially on Iran.”

The Estimate has 180 classified pages, DEBKA-Net-Weekly reveals – not 130 as widely reported. Seven were unclassified. None make any effort to resolve the glaring contradictions between US intelligence’s aggressive campaign in 2005, based on the apparent conviction that Iran had a full-blown military program on fast forward, and the equally adamant determination today that the program had been put on ice two years prior to that campaign.

This sort of dissonance cuts deep into the credibility of US intelligence.


An estimate resting on dodgy human intelligence


Furthermore, Israeli secret service analysts are skeptical of findings resting primarily on humint (human intelligence), which in the Middle East is of exceptionally low credibility, and not to be relied on as serious guidance.

They ask: “How come the NIE rests so heavily on humint? What happened to its other sources, such as satellites?”

DEBKA-net-Weekly’s intelligence sources cite members of the cloak and dagger community as asking why is information on Iran’s missile industry, a key element of its nuclear weapons drive, not touched on at all?

For instance, the main Revolutionary Guards Shahid Motaleb underground production center in Semnan Province, which makes Shehab-3’s engines and guidance systems; and the Shahid Jahan Beyglou underground manufacturing plant in Fars province northwest of Shiraz City. It is in the second place that parts of a new generation of Ashoura surface missiles are under production and where fuses and other components of bombs and nuclear warheads are tested

The US intelligence estimate neglects to draw on the high-value materials and documents Israel raiders brought back from their Sept 6 operation against Syria’s nuclear facility, including evidence that a Iranian weapons program was in progress. The materials were released to American intelligence experts together with copies of the documents recovered.


The hidden uranium mine rates no NIE mention


Although the IAEA director Mohammed ElBaradei claims the agency’s findings are inconclusive on the nuclear bomb question, a glance through its reports shows anomalies that have never been resolved. Yet they find no place in the pages of the NIE.

For instance, the written questions that the IAEA submitted to Tehran three years ago about its purchase of Polonium 210, one of whose uses is as the trigger system of a nuclear weapon as a source of neutrons. Even the hard-to convince IAEA finds Iran’s stonewalling on this as further evidence of Iran’s engagement, or interest, in “a nuclear explosive mechanism”.

This anomaly dates to 2004, one year after US intelligence claims Iran’s military program was suspended. Yet it rates no mention.

There is more: The watchdog is trying without success to investigate Iran’s failure to disclose an active uranium mine and processing plant in the Gchine region (although another mine has not been concealed). Here, too, Tehran has failed to respond to written questions about the use of the mine and why Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization ceased operations in 1993. A request to grant IAEA inspectors access to documents, equipment and personnel involved in the project was ignored.

This evasiveness convinced informed observers that, to preserve the secrecy of its operations, management of the mine was transferred from Iran’s official atomic agency to a clandestine body – DEBKA-Net-Weekly has disclosed repeatedly that the Revolutionary Guards have responsibility for Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

This transfer would support the presumption that the secret mine was providing ore for the covert production of uranium.

Even the cagy Dr. ElBaradei has expressed the nuclear watchdog’s concern about its “deteriorating” understanding of unexplored aspects of Iran's nuclear program.

In the light of Washington’s policy reversal on Iran, and Israel’s conviction that the Iranian nuclear bomb threat in the near term is as tangible as ever, its policy-makers are described by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources as struggling with tough dilemmas.


Israel‘s six-year military project is dead-ended


Six years ago, in full coordination with the US, the Israeli defense establishment began investing heavily in efforts and resources to create five military mechanisms specifically oriented to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat in the long term.

1. The Air Force built and trained air units and refueling facilities for long-range operations.

2. Special operations units were trained to operate independently in arenas far distant from home base.

3. The Dolphin submarine fleet was customized for use as the backbone of Israel’s second-strike option against Iran, in the event of an Iranian missile or nuclear attack.

4. Large-scale production of a new generation of surface missiles began immediately after the 2006 war with Hizballah ended.

5. Military spy satellites were geared for support missions.

More than $3 billion has been invested in the mechanisms for action against Iran, at the expense of Israel’s short-range and short-term military requirements on its multiple local fronts.

The long-term target date of June-July 2008 was fast approaching when Washington wielded the NIE axe to America’s military option.

By challenging US intelligence conclusions, Israel is confronted with two outsize dilemmas: Its government can opt for disassociation from the Bush administration orientation on Iran and make its own decisions about a threat which Israeli opinion wall-to-wall views as existential, although without American back-up, the entire strategy and targeting would have to be revised. Alternatively, Israel can follow the Bush lead and act in denial of the Iranian nuclear peril.

Even then, Israel would be left lumbered with an expensive military and intelligence machine and nowhere to use it.

By Thursday, Dec. 6, pressing questions were being addressed to Washington from Israel, France, Germany and other US allies, in an effort to understand the Bush administration’s about-face on Iran. No answers were forthcoming.

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