This is a story that gets curiouser and curiouser the more you look at it...
Originally reported by the unreliable DEBKA website , we can now confirm some of the details of this story via the Iranian's own news agency:
Eighteen people were killed in a fire at an ammunitions store in a Revolutionary Guards base in Iran, the Fars news agency quoted a commander of the elite force as saying Wednesday in the latest toll.
"In yesterday's explosion at one of the Guards' bases in Lorestan (in western Iran), 18 people were killed and 14 wounded," commander Yadollah Bouali said.
He said some of the casualties in Tuesday's blast were workers at the base but did not specify whether they included members of Guards.
On Tuesday, Bouali said the explosion hit when fire spread to the munitions store at the base near the provincial capital Khorramabad.
Iran's Arabic-language Al-Alam television on Tuesday cited a military source it did not identify as saying that "some soldiers" were among the dead at the Imam Ali base.
I find it significant if not a little strange that western media has been ignoring this story. Not even the wire services have picked it up. Of course, the original story came from an unreliable source. But when Iran's own news agency runs with it, you would think a fire and explosion at one of Iran's key military bases might generate a few lines of copy at AP, AFP, or Reuters.
Spook 86 on the Imam Ali Base:
Reports of underground explosions at Khorramabad immediately caught our attention. It was one of the first facilities built to support the Shahab-3, the first Iranian ballistic system capable of striking targets in Israel. Intelligence analysts believe at least 15 Shahab-3s are stationed at the Iman Ali Base, along with an unknown number of mobile launchers. Much of missile maintenance and storage activity at the installation is conducted underground, making it difficult for western intelligence to determine how many missiles are in garrison at any given time, and the overall operational posture of the Shahab-3 unit.
Security at the base is extremely tight, and the underground chambers are (presumably) equipped with blast doors, sprinkler systems and other protective measures. That makes the explosions even more remarkable. Assuming that DEBKA is correct, the Iranians must concede that one of their most important missile bases was crippled by an act of sabotage.
Readers will also note that no one (so far) has claimed responsibility for the blasts. In terms of the usual suspects, you can probably rule out Iranian opposition groups. Generally speaking, they lack the resources to carry out that sort of strike; besides, if one of those groups was behind the strike, they would likely claim credit, to enhance their stature within opposition community and score propaganda points at the expense of the Iranian regime.
It's also doubtful the CIA was behind the incident. We can't imagine the Obama Administration using the agency's covert operations assets to stage such a provocative attack against the Tehran regime--the same government it has been trying to court diplomatically (without success) for the past two years.
On the other hand, the Israel's Mossad certainly has the assets, the skill and the willingness to strike key Iranian targets. And, it certainly fits with the recent pattern of mysterious attacks against Tehran's WMD programs and delivery systems. Earlier this year, computer networks at key facilities--including Iranian nuclear complexes--were hit with a crippling cyber attack, using the Stuxnet worm. Now, one of its medium-range missile bases has been damaged in a daring strike. Operatives somehow penetrated the installation's multiple layers of security, then planted and detonated bombs that destroyed some of Iran's most important military assets.
Speculation like this is fine, as long as you are prone to disbelieve the official story. Indeed, as Spook 86 points out, the possibility is remote that a fire would spread to such a large area of an underground complex.
AT contributor Wesley Clark has a different take:
It's tantalizing to speculate that the Stuxnet worm that affects Siemens process controllers was somehow activated by the "mysterious hand" to accomplish this delightful occurrence, and that more such events may be planned for the future. Even better would it be, if our own warriors were responsible. Of course, they'd never admit it, but it would be a source for some good old-fashioned American pride.
Degrading the enemy's retaliatory capability as this possible intelligence operation has done might indicate that Israel is approaching zero hour in making a decision whether or not to bomb Iran. Certainly, we are talking about a matter of months now - perhaps even weeks - where the window of opportunity for the IDF to strike will be open.