The War Against Iran Has Already Begun

By Arthur Hayes

The two recent explosions within the Iranian nuclear establishment are the latest escalation in the war that is being fought between Israel and the US against Iran. The war is aimed at delaying and if possible preventing Iran from successfully completing its Shahab3 ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programme. The tools being used by the anti-Iranian forces are targeted assassinations, sabotage and cyber weapons. However, it  is unlikely that the war will stop the Iranian intent to develop its nuclear and ballistic weapons. At best it will significantly delay and interrupt their development.

Two recent explosions have rocked Iranian nuclear facilities. The first occurred on 12 November inside the Iranian nuclear plant at Isfahan. It was so loud that it could be heard in Tehran, more than 40 kilometres away. The second was in late November at an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) site in Bid Kaneh, north west of Tehran. It caused extensive damage, thus setting back the Iranian ballistic missile solid fuel programme. Thirty-six members of the IRGC were  killed in the explosion, including Major General Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, named as the head of Iran’s missile development programme.

What was significant about the technology at this site was that it developed and tested solid fuel technology for the substantial Iranian ballistic missile programme. Previously the Iranians had depended upon liquid fuel for their missiles. Liquid fuel is hazardous to store, transport and use. Because each missile has to be fuelled prior to launch, this delays response times and makes launch sites vulnerable to enemy counter or pre-emptive strikes. Solid fuel technology reduces ready times and allows commanders a far greater range of response options. According to the  International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, the destruction of the site and the death of Major General Moghaddam have disrupted and delayed the solid fuel programme. 

Other methods are being deployed in this war. The Stuxnet cyber attack on the Natanz enrichment plant caused physical damage to perhaps 1,000 out of the 8,000 centrifuges, thus slowing down the rate at which weapons grade uranium can be produced by the regime. The plant is designed to house 50,000 centrifuges, which would allow Iran to provide sufficient weapons grade uranium to assemble and test a device before equipping Shahab3 ballistic missiles.

Targeted assassination has also seemingly  been used  to restrain Iranian nuclear development. For example Dariush Rezaei,  named in The Pakistan Times as a nuclear scientist working for the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, was assassinated in July 2011 in a shooting by an unknown motorcyclist in Tehran. Masoud Ali Mohammadi,  assassinated by a bomb in January 2010, was identified by the Fars news media outlet as an Iranian nuclear scientist.  

There appears to be a multi pronged and escalating operation in existence. This involves both the use of traditional kinetic force targeting senior Iranian nuclear scientists and missile experts and  the deployment of the cyber weapon, Stuxnet. Although no nation, organisation or movement has ever officially claimed responsibility for any of these incidents, most analysts believe that only the CIA and the Mossad have the capability and political backing to undertake such audacious operations. 

The targeted campaign against the Iranian nuclear programme has probably had a debilitating effect on the progress of Iranian aspirations. However, it is extremely difficult to assess how great this effect is based purely on open source material.

The response from the Iranian side can be seen in the Supreme Leader’s direction to the Iranian defence forces to take all necessary measures to protect the regime, from what it perceives as all pervasive threats to its continued existence. The Iranian leadership exists within a unique frame of reference; it sees the Islamic Revolutionary Republic surrounded by hostile enemies bent on its destruction and internal dissent fuelled by  imperialistic and greedy capitalist nations, primarily the US, Israel, and the UK. The UK has a unique place within Iranian modern political culture; the legacy of the Great Game between the British Indian empire and imperial Russia, British and Soviet invasion in World War II, the anti Mossadeq conspiracy by the CIA and MI6 in the 1950s, western support for Saddam Hussain during the Iran–Iraq war, invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and the western attempts to limit the Iranian nuclear programme all coagulate to feed a near paranoia over British intentions and capabilities against the Islamic Revolution.

The assault on UK diplomatic premises in Tehran, coupled with the British expulsion of all Iranian diplomats last week and the apparent loss of a US drone over Iranian airspace, serve only to heighten tensions and emotions on both sides. The use of assassination and sabotage are not going to prevent Iran from continuing to develop its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons agenda.  They are a two sided coin;  one side slows down the pace of development while  the other fuels the suspicions that led to their development in the first place. The portents for a peaceful 2012 in the Persian Gulf are not good.


Arthur Hayes is a Senior Counter-Terrorism Officer with over 20 years’ experience. He has taken part in major counter-terrorism operations and intelligence gathering against a diverse range of targets, including Irish Republicans, Middle Eastern and domestic Islamic extremists.  


14 December 2011