Reza Kahlili, author of the award-winning book "A Time to Betray," served in CIA Directorate of Operations, as a spy in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, counterterrorism expert; currently serves on the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, an advisory board to Congress and the advisory board of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran (FDI). He regularly appears in national and international media as an expert on Iran and counterterrorism inMore ↓Less ↑
Two massive blasts on Nov. 12 that hit near Tehran, the Iranian capital, and rocked the city may have been an attempt to assassinate the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who had been scheduled to be there at the time of the explosions, sources suggest.
Now the question is whether the Iranians will retaliate.
At the time of the explosions, Iranians found themselves wondering if Israel had attacked. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s recent report on Iran’s nuclear weapons program and the warnings of military action by Israeli officials have alarmed Iranians about the possibility of war.
The simultaneous explosions, which hit the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ base 28 miles west of Tehran, not only shook the surrounding area but were heard and felt throughout Tehran, even breaking car and building windows.
Revolutionary Guard officials soon announced that the explosions occurred at one of their ammunition depots while ammunition was being moved and claimed at first that 15 people were killed.
Iran’s state-owned media rapidly changed the story multiple times on the number of fatalities and the cause of the incidents, but they all ruled out the possibility of a plot and stated that the explosions had nothing to do with Iran’s nuclear program. Then they announced that Brig. Gen. Hassan Tehrani-Moghadam, the “architect of Iran’s missile program,” was one of those killed.
The shock was palpable among the Iranian leaders, and soon sources within Iran revealed that the correct number of casualties was well over 100. It also was reported that right after the explosions, tanks and armored vehicles mobilized in and around Tehran and in other provinces.
Photos reveal that at the site where the explosions happened, there was an image created on the ground that referenced the “Madhi,” the “12th imam” expected by Shia Muslims who describe him as their “Islamic messiah.” They believe he will appear at the end of time to reign. Further, the belief is that Muslims can hasten the appearance of the Madhi by bringing about cataclysmic violence on earth.
The “Madhi” reference, therefore, at the site of the still-unexplained explosions raises an ominous possibility that Iran may believe its best next move is violence, Western observers note.
Satellite image of the guards’ base in Bidganeh, near the town of Shahriar. Before the explosion, it shows tunnels into the mountain similar to the Fardo nuclear facility, indicating that possible nuclear work also was conducted at this military facility. IAEA has not been authorized by the Islamic regime to inspect Iranian military bases.
A closer look at the tunnels in the mountain
Satellite image from the same site shows the word “Ya – Mahdi” carved in the facility. Mahdi is the name of the Shiite’s 12th Imam and the last Islamic messiah who will reappear at the end of time. Nuclear and missile programs of the radicals ruling Iran are directly connected to that belief
Khamenei attended the funeral of those killed and described the severity of the incident: “The bloody incident, which resulted in the martyrdom of some of our best, including the superior commander and scientist Hassan Moghadam, is truly bitter and sad.”
Although Iranian officials claimed the explosions were accidental, their statements later indicated that there was more to the incident.
One explosion “set back the manufacture of the (Guards’) researched product only for two weeks, which could be a punch in the mouth of the global arrogance (forces of imperialism) and the occupying (Zionists),” said Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, the chairman of Iran’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Referring to Israel, Guards Gen. Masoud Jazayeri said the “Zionist regime” should expect shocking explosions in Tel Aviv and other cities. Iran is blaming the explosions on Israel.
Interestingly, a little more than a week later, a similar explosion occurred at a weapons’ depot of the terrorist group Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. And there have been subsequent reports of more explosions.
But most revealing was the statement reflected on the Revolutionary Guards’ media outlet, Javan Online, by Mehdi Taeb, the head of the Ammar Garrison and one of the most fanatical figures in the Islamic regime. He stated that “a big event will take place after the martyrdom of Hassan Moghadam.” He added that the deceased general was working on a project that, despite his absence, will soon come together and result in the “big event.”
As reported in May, Khamenei ordered the Guards to arm their missiles with nuclear warheads before the end of the Iranian year – March 2012 – and that the Guards were already in possession of two nuclear-capable warheads. According to the agreement between the Revolutionary Guards and the Ministry of Defense, eight more nuclear warheads will be produced and delivered to the Revolutionary Guards within the next several months.
It is now clear that the missile project the Guards were working on was the one Khamenei ordered that would weaponize their missiles. Even though there is no evidence pointing to a nuclear blast, sources indicate that IRGC missile experts were working on a new warhead that could carry a nuclear payload, and the explosion not only caused major devastation to the Guards’ base but much of the surrounding area.
Sources within Iran also indicate that Khamenei may have been the target of the explosion. At the time, he was scheduled to arrive at the site to witness the Guards’ advancements. If true, this shows deep infiltration within the Iranian leadership and a direct warning that assassination of the highest ranks in Iran is on the table.
It was not the first successful attack on Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. There have been several others – from the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, to Stuxnet and other viruses infecting their nuclear facilities, to mysterious explosions. In 2008, an explosion destroyed a Revolutionary Guards convoy carrying military equipment destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon, and in 2010 Iran’s Shahab-3 ballistic missiles depot inside a Revolutionary Guards’ base in the western Iranian province of Lurestan was struck.
However, the most recent incident has shaken the Iranian leaders to the core. Out of security concern, Khamenei and Guards’ top commanders immediately canceled an important event commemorating Eid-E-Ghadir, which recalls Muhammad’s purported appointment of Ali as the first of his hereditary successors. Last year on that occasion, Khamenei delivered his sermon to all top commanders and tens of thousands of Guards and Basiji forces.
Editor’s Note: The writer is the author of “A Time to Betray,” a book about his double life as a CIA agent in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.