Satellite photographs released yesterday show that the explosion Monday at an Iranian military base at Parchin, where the clerical regime is believed to be working on its nuclear weapons program, did significant damage. The images obtained by Israeli media outlet Israel Defense and “analyzed by specialist Ronen Solomon clearly show damage consistent with an attack against bunkers in a central locality within the military research complex at the Parchin military compound.”
The Iranian opposition—namely, the Mujahedin e-Khalq—are taking credit for sabotaging one of the regime’s illicit nuclear weapons facilities. Skeptics, however, have contended that the accident may have been the result of a ruptured gas line or a munitions explosion. After all, they reason, why would the Iranians be conducting nuclear tests at Parchin the very day the IAEA was scheduled to arrive in Tehran and with demands to inspect that very base at the top of its agenda?
IAEA officials went to Iran earlier this week and left frustrated that the regime has still not fully implemented the steps it had agreed to carry out, regarding what the IAEA calls the "possible military dimensions" (PMDs) of Tehran's nuclear program. The IAEA sought access to various sites where work related to PMDs may have occurred, like Parchin. Without being able to distinguish the PMDs from civilian work, the IAEA cannot establish the scope of a future verification regime. For instance, it will not be able to verify that Iran has met its obligations to limit uranium work, unless it has a full picture of the work the regime is doing, civilian and military.
In September, the IAEA released a report explaining that Iran had been anything but forthcoming. Instead, it had destroyed evidence that "further undermined the Agency’s ability to conduct effective verification." Last week, the IAEA was back in Tehran to give the Iranians another chance. In particular, officials wanted access to the facilities at Parchin where, Israel Defense reports, “according to Western intelligence agencies, trials are being conducted on nuclear missile fuses.”
Attributing causes to Monday’s explosion then largely depends on one’s assessment of the IAEA’s ability to force the Islamic Republic to comply, or Iran’s willingness to do so. If you believe the IAEA is an efficient watchdog capable of getting the Iranians to come clean, then it’s possible the explosion was simply an accident. Maybe, for instance, the Iranians were simply moving something dangerous and it all went very wrong.
If however you consider the IAEA’s spotty record in getting Iran to cooperate, or Iranian intransigence and duplicity, then Monday’s incident was more likely intentional. If it was in fact an operation, conducted either by the Iranian opposition and/or foreign intelligence services, the purpose was to bring attention to what Iran is up to at Parchin. If the IAEA can’t gain access to document the nuclear program’s possible military dimensions, then an explosion leveling large parts of the Parchin facility underscores why the regime won’t let the IAEA in, and why Iran can’t be trusted.