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Iran explosion: An accident or a reminder ?

Correction: This post originally stated that the Parchin military site was an enrichment facility. It is a testing site. The version below has been corrected.

The BBC reports: “A fire and explosion at a military explosives facility near the Iranian capital Tehran has left at least two people dead, reports say. The semi-official Iranian Students News Agency (Isna) said the fire was in an ‘explosive materials production unit.’ … A pro-opposition website reported a huge blast near the Parchin military site, south-east of the capital, but this was not confirmed. … The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has not been given access to the complex since 2005. Analysts say the IAEA suspects Iran of experimenting with explosives capable of triggering a nuclear weapon at Parchin.”

That is right — the West still has had no access to one of Iran’s key enrichment testing sites yet has now twice extended sanctions relief.

It is unknown whether this was an Iranian accident or sabotage. As one Iran expert put it to me, “Never underestimate the Iranian regime’s capacity to screw up on its own without the involvement of foreign intelligence services.” On the other hand, the ambiguity as to the cause of the explosion serves the West’s interests, and especially Israel’s. It is a reminder, at the very least, to the Obama negotiators as well as the mullahs that Israeli intelligence and military remain the wild card, even as the U.S. president seems bent on giving away the store at the negotiating table.

The JINSA Iran panel’s report in July, co-authored by former Obama administration adviser Dennis Ross and former Bush administration undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman, reminded policymakers that to force Iran to give up its nuclear capability it would be advisable to “boost the credibility of Israel’s military option. Contrasted with the United States, which has the unquestioned capability but uncertain will to carry out such a strike, Israel’s own capability may not match its clear determination to prevent a nuclear  Iran.” It seems remarkable that the administration is making so little effort to amplify the potential for Israeli action.

The panel recommended transferring “bunker-buster” bombs to Israel along with an appropriate delivery system. (“This would reinforce diplomatic efforts in two ways. First, by sending an unmistakable signal that Israel has the ability – on top of the will – to execute a military strike, it would increase Tehran’s concerns about what could happen if no acceptable deal is reached. Second, it would bolster the U.S. position at the negotiating table by communicating preparedness to consider other options if diplomacy goes nowhere.”)

Perhaps the reported explosion was simply an accident. But if it was an intentional reminder that Israel, even without additional U.S. military assistance, has the will and capacity to do real damage to Iran’s program, then maybe, just maybe the U.S. negotiators will use that to their advantage. You think so? Me neither, but one can hope.