Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ex-officials: Iran nuclear effort hit by sabotage

Arab News
Douglas Birch

Populations are endangered by U.S. and
Israeli acts of sabotage at nuclear facilities
WASHINGTON: Iran’s star-crossed nuclear and energy programs have suffered a rash of setbacks, mishaps and catastrophes in the past two years.

Assassins killed three scientists with links to Iran’s nuclear programs. The Stuxnet computer worm that famously infected computers worldwide zeroed in on a single target in Iran, devices that can make weapons-usable uranium. Dozens of unexplained explosions hit the country’s gas pipelines, and Iran’s first nuclear power plant suffered major equipment failures as technicians struggle to bring it online.
Has Iran just been unlucky? Probably not.

The chief of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Fereidoun Abbasi, heatedly told journalists at a meeting in Vienna last week that the United States was supporting an Israeli assassination campaign against his scientists. His emotional comments came almost a year after motorcyclists attached a bomb to the door of his car in Tehran. He and his wife barely escaped with their lives.

As for the three slayings, Iranian President Ahmadinejad told The Associated Press on Friday that the killers had been caught and confessed to being “trained in the occupied lands by the Zionists.” He accused the International Atomic Energy Agency of being under the control of the US and said the watchdog agency had “illegally and unethically” released the names of Iran’s nuclear researchers, making them targets.

While Israel and Britain won’t discuss Iran’s charges, the US has denied any role in the slayings.
“We condemn any assassination or attack on a person — on an innocent person,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said after the latest killing in July. “We were not involved.” Former US officials point out that assassinations are outlawed by the US, which condones drone strikes against terrorists as acts of war against combatants.

Yet there is little doubt that the Obama administration is pursuing a program of high-tech sabotage to disrupt Tehran’s suspected weapons-related nuclear efforts.

“I have no doubt that the US and other countries were behind industrial sabotage aimed at the program of concern,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, a former State Department official, referring to Iran’s nuclear program.

Tehran said it is pursuing nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. International inspectors said Iran has refused to explain suspected weapons work since 2008. Meanwhile, the US and other countries accuse Iran of making all the necessary preparations to build a nuclear arsenal.

Publicly, the Obama administration has pushed for tougher sanctions and further diplomatic isolation to pressure Iran to abandon weapons-related work. At the same time, former officials said, the US and its allies have secretly ramped up covert actions aimed at slowing Iran’s nuclear progress toward a bomb.

“As Iran moves closer to being able to produce a nuclear weapon, concerned countries are increasingly concentrating on ways to prevent it from being able to cross that line,” said Fitzpatrick, now at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

Ex-officials said the US has been careful to target only those facilities suspected of playing a role in weapons work and avoid casualties or other collateral damage.

One former senior intelligence official said that the US considered a scheme to use a burst of electromagnetic energy to knock out power to one suspected Iranian weapons-related site but rejected the plan because of the risk of causing a widespread power outage. The former official would only speak about classified matters on condition of anonymity.

The suspected sabotage campaign is widely seen as an alternative to military confrontation with Iran, which some experts say could have disastrous consequences for the Middle East.

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