Since the release of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) report last week indicating that Iran may be developing the key components of a nuclear weapon, there has been much speculation on whether Israel will carry out an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities in order to delay or destroy its nuclear program.
The idea of an Israeli-Iranian conflict with growing military dimensions gained some weight last week with the explosion at the Ghadir IRGC base at Bidganeh (near Tehran) which claimed the lives of 17 Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) members, including Brigadier General Hassan Tehrani-Moghadam. Tehrani-Moghadam was the commander of the IRGC’s Self-Sufficiency and Industrial Research Centre and reputed to be the founder of its ballistic missile program, making him a key figure in Iran’s security establishment despite his low public profile.
While the Iranian government has claimed that the explosion was an accident that occurred during the transportation of explosive munitions, the victims and timing of the blast are suspicious and allude to a possible Israeli role. Could the explosion be part of an increasingly bold Israeli covert war against Iran? Some of the signals from the IRGC and IRGC-linked figures this week may point in this direction.
A portrait of Tehrani-Moghadam
According to Iranian media reports Tehrani-Moghadam, the IRGC commander killed in the explosion at Bidganeh on 12 November 2011, was an engineer by training and a central figure in weapons development for the Islamic Republic. His importance to the regime and IRGC was belied by the presence of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at his funeral, who posthumously promoted him to a major general. Two eulogies given by two former IRGC commanders help shed light on Tehrani-Moghadam’s precise role.
Major General Mostafa Izadi, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Islamic Republic of Iran Armed Forces and a close friend of Tehrani-Moghadam, released an obituary on him on Sunday in which Izadi called him the “founder of the IRGC’s powerful artillery forces” and praised his role during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988):
“When the Baathist enemy’s missile attacks began, and the warriors of Islam [IRGC] had to embark on a new path, it was again General Hassan Moghadam who was appointed for this important mission. From 1363 , he founded the IRGC’s surface-to-surface missile system with hard work.”
Crucially, Izadi then linked Tehrani-Moghadam’s work to the conflict with Israel:
“The blossoming ideas of this brave General of Islam must certainly be seen as crucial to the victories of the region’s nations, and the 33 day heroic Hezbollah and 22 day Hamas wars [with Israel], which were the beginning of the Islamic Awakening [Arab Spring].”
Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf, an IRGC field commander during the Iran-Iraq War and former head of its air force, in a meeting with mayors and deputy mayors of the districts of Tehran on 13 November 2011, linked many of Iran’s achievements in the aerospace industry to Tehrani-Moghadam despite:
“From the first days of the war the founder of the first artillery and missile works was Martyr General Moghadam. He had many innovations in this field, and did a considerable service for the Islamic regime…If today we pride ourselves in launching a satellite to space, these have come through the efforts of General Moghadam. But nowhere do we see the name or signs of this child of the revolution, even though all of these scientific achievements have come with the effort, hard-work, suffering, sweat, sacrifice and patience of Martyr Moghadam.”
Editor’s note: Iranian officials and media, including the IRGC, have nearly uniformly attributed the death of Tehrani-Moghadam to an accident at the Ghadir base, a story which is not implausible given the presence of explosive munitions there.
Yet the signs that the explosion may have been part of an Israeli covert war (aided by Western intelligence agencies) against Iran are many fold. First, it is suspected that Israel was responsible for the assassination of at least three scientists linked to Iran’s nuclear program, and the attempted assassination of another scientist Fereydoon Abbasi-Davani in November of 2010 (he has since been promoted to head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran). Furthermore, it is believed that the Stuxnet and Duqu viruses, which are thought to have damaged Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, can also be attributed to Israel and Western intelligence agencies. When asked for comment on Saturday’s explosion at the Ghadir base, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak simply said “May there be more like it”.
Perhaps most telling was this week’s editorial in the IRGC-mouthpiece Sobh-e Sadegh by Brigadier General Yadollah Javani, head of the IRGC’s Political Bureau and editor-in-chief of Sobh-e Sadegh. As in the past, Javani emphasized the theme of Sepah Harasi or the demonization of the IRGC by Israel and the West in his editorial. He specifically called the UN targeted sanctions list naming IRGC commanders linked with Iran’s nuclear program an “assassination list”, and quoted US General Jack Keane (Ret.), who has called for the capture and assassination of IRGC commanders. Although Tehrani-Moghadam’s name was not mentioned once by Javani, the timing of the editorial suggests that the IRGC itself may feel under attack.
If this was an Israeli covert operation, possibly aided by Western intelligence agencies, could we be seeing a new and more intense phase in the Israeli-Iranian conflict? Furthermore, could a covert war take the place of a direct military confrontation between the foes? If this is the case, we are sure to see more events like this and critically, an Iranian response.