The chief of Iran’s nuclear program says the power lines to his nuclear facilities were sabotaged. U.S. Special Forces have trained for operations inside Iran for years. Do these latest disclosures suggest they are already on the ground?
On Monday, Fereydoun Abbasi, Iran’s vice president and the chief of its nuclear-energy agency, disclosed that power lines between the holy city of Qom and the underground Fordow nuclear centrifuge facility were blown up with explosives on Aug. 17. He also said the power lines leading to Iran’s Natanz facilities were blown up as well. On the day after the power was cut off at Fordow, an inspector from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) asked to visit the facility.
“It should be recalled that power cut off is one of the ways to break down centrifuge machines,” Abbasi said, according to a copy of his prepared remarks to the IAEA on Monday. “Then during the early hours of next morning an agency inspector requested to conduct an unannounced inspection. Does this visit have any connection to that detonation?”
In recent years, the West’s stealth war on Iran’s nuclear program has been waged through sabotage, industrial explosions, cyberviruses, and targeted killings. But until recently elements of the country’s civilian infrastructure were off limits in this not-so-secret shadow war.
The disclosure is significant. To start, it is the first piece of evidence to suggest opponents of the Iranian program are targeting the country’s electrical grid and doing so on the ground. The U.S. military has studied Iran’s infrastructure closely. In 2009, a research lab attached to the U.S. joint staff and combatant commands known as the Joint Warfare Analysis Center discovered a weakness in Iran’s electrical grids that at the time would make it vulnerable to a cyberattack.
The attack described by Abbasi suggests, however, a physical explosion as opposed to a cyberattack. He specifically said the power lines from Qom to the Shahid Ali Mohammadi complex at Fordow “were cut using explosives.” In this case, special-operations forces on the ground in Iran would carry out such an attack, as opposed to cyberwarriors half a world away.
A retired U.S. intelligence officer who still works as a contractor with the U.S. military on operations with regard to Iran told The Daily Beast that U.S. Special Forces have trained for sabotage missions inside Iran for years. “From the first reports, this attack looks like something from our guys,” this source said. This former official also said U.S. Special Forces conducted a series of targeted attacks on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in late 2011 as the U.S. military was exiting Iraq. That stealth offensive is widely credited with stopping Iran from attacking U.S. forces as they left Iraq.
If the United States conducted the sabotage of Iran’s power lines, it may help ease concerns from Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Last week a private disagreement between Netanyahu and President Obama went public when the Israeli leader chastised Western countries for failing to set red lines for Iran, beyond which there would be a military strike. While at times Israel and the United States have disagreed on Iran policy, the intelligence services of the two countries continue to cooperate on efforts to sabotage the program.