Israeli minister welcomes reports of blast at nuclear plant

Mon, Jan 28, 2013, 00:00

Israel’s home front defence minister Avi Dichter has welcomed reports of a mysterious explosion at Iran’s Fordo nuclear facility – considered Tehran’s most fortified site.

Mr Dichter, a former head of the Israel security agency (Shin Bet), failed to confirm any possible Israeli involvement but expressed satisfaction over reports of the blast.

“Any explosion in Iran that doesn’t hurt people but hurts its assets is welcome.”

WND, an American news website, reported that a mysterious explosion destroyed a significant part of the Fordo facility, trapping about 240 personnel deep underground. Fordo is Iran’s second-largest nuclear complex and the site of 2,700 centrifuges, all enriching uranium to 20 per cent level – at which it can be weaponised.

The website quoted Hamidreza Zakeri, formerly with the Islamic republic’s ministry of intelligence and national security, saying that the facility was hit last Monday, but the report has not been corroborated by any western source.

“The blast shook facilities within a radius of three miles. Security forces have enforced a no-traffic radius of 15 miles, and the Tehran-Qom highway was shut down for several hours after the blast,” the report said.

‘Sabotage’

According to the report Tehran blamed the explosion on sabotage and believes the explosives “could have reached the area disguised as equipment or in the uranium hexafluoride stock transferred to the site . . . The explosion occurred at the third centrifuge chambers, with the high-grade enriched uranium reserves below them.” The Fordo facility was carved deep into a mountain and is considered impregnable to airstrikes and most bunker-buster bombs.

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu told a visiting US congressional delegation over the weekend that Iran’s nuclear programme must be halted at the uranium enrichment stage, before it entered the weaponisation phase.

Tehran has accused Israel and western intelligence agencies of frequent attempts to sabotage its nuclear programme, which it insists is for purely for peaceful purposes. Israel has never responded to such claims, but officials maintain that “all options are on the table” to stop Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb.

Emergency session

A former Iranian diplomat who defected to the west in 2010 told Israel’s Channel 2 TV in an interview broadcast on Friday that if Tehran acquired nuclear weapons, it would use them against Israel. Mohammad Reza Heydari, who has political asylum in Norway, claimed that Venezuela was flying uranium and various components intended for use in nuclear weapons to Tehran.

Last week, after the reported blast, the Israeli security cabinet met in emergency session, but officials said the focus was on fears over Syria’s chemical weapons falling into the hands of radical Islamic groups.

Israeli vice-prime minister Silvan Shalom said the transfer of chemical weapons to groups hostile to Israel, particularly Hizbullah, may prompt Israel to act.