Hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s claim of Iranian success in low-level uranium enrichment was more bombastic than frank. Before springing his disclosure at a sacred mausoleum in the northern town of Mashhad on April 11, DEBKAfile’s Iranian sources disclose he paid a stealthy visit to Neyshabour in Khorassan, 38 kms to the southeast.
There, he inspected a project he omitted to mention in his Mashhad speech about low-level enrichment, namely, a top-secret plant under construction that is designed to run 155,000 centrifuges, enough to enrich uranium for 3-5 nuclear bombs a year.
This is Project B, or the hidden face of the enrichment plant open to inspection at Natanz.
This plant, due for completion next October, is scheduled to go on line at the end of 2007. According to our intelligence sources, running-in has begun at some sections of the Neyshabour installation, which is located 600 km northeast of Tehran. DEBKAfile’s sources reveal too that the Neyshabour plant has been built 150 m deep under farmland covered with mixed vegetable crops and dubbed Shahid Moradian, in the name of a war martyr as obscure as its existence. ...
Russian experts completed the initial plans in 2003 and construction began in early 2004. In late 2005, Bulgarian transport planes delivered tens of thousands of centrifuges from Belarus and Ukraine; they were transported directly to Neyshabour. In January 2006, 23 Ukrainian engineers arrived to start installing the equipment, joined in February by 46 Belarusian nuclear experts who are working in shifts to prepare the 155,000 P-1 and P-2 centrifuges for operation.
This compares with 60,000 in Nathanz – of which 40,000 are accessible for inspection while 20,000 are hidden in closed subterranean chambers.
Neyshabour, however, still needs to undergo experimental stages, according to our Iranian sources. It is far from sure that the Ukrainian and Belarusian experts will be able to put together a well-synchronized centrifuge project that is workable in the long term. ...
Debka's analysts say their sources reject the idea that the regime is planning to back down before the looming Security Council deadline. Read the full article at the link.
Sadr: One sorry SOB. Iraqipundit isn't impressed with Muqtada al-Sadr's sudden contrition over the bloodshed in Iraq - or with the WaPo's treatment of it:
"Pardon me if anything happened from my side" of the recent explosion of sectarian killing, Al Sadr recently told Iraqi's Sunni community. "Let us open up a new chapter of history."
What a guy. But did anyone actually hear Moktada Al Sadr say such a thing?
As a matter of fact, no. According to The Washington Post, the new, improved Sadr was expressing his refined sorrow "In a letter issued Thursday." The paper characterized the letter thusly: "Sadr told his followers they should not provoke sectarian strife and asked Iraqis for forgiveness."
Yeah, right. ...
Big George or Big Rummy? IsraPundit links to Kenneth R. Timmerman at NewsMax with a couple of possible scenarios for a military strike on Iran:
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney calls it the "Big George" scenario.
According to the man who helped plan the first air war against Saddam in 1991, U.S. aircraft, armed with conventional bunker-buster bombs, would be more than enough to wipe out Iran's nuclear and missile facilities, and cripple its ability to command and control its military forces.
McInerney believes that U.S. air power is so massive, precise, and stealthy, it can effectively disarm Iran with just limited assistance from covert operators on the ground whose task would be to light up enemy targets.
In his "Big George" scenario, the United States would attack 1,000 targets in Iran. Fifteen B2 stealth bombers based in the United States and another 45 F117s and F-22s based in the region would carry out the initial waves of the attack, crippling Iran's long-range radar and strategic air defenses.
Massive, additional waves of carrier-based F-18s, as well as F-15s and F-16s launching from ground bases in Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, and Bahrain, would take out Iran's known nuclear and missile sites.
"Big George" would also target command and control facilities – Revolutionary Guards command centers, key clerics, and other regime-sensitive sites – in the hope of triggering a revolt against the clerical regime by opposition groups inside Iran.
An alternative plan is a little smaller:
"Big Rummy" would be executed in a single night, and would concentrate on 500 "aim points." It would require greater assistance from covert operators if the administration's goal was to provoke regime collapse, McInerney added. But in a report appearing in the New Yorker, left-wing columnist Seymour Hersh claims that President Bush is so filled with doubt over the Pentagon's conventional capabilities that he asked military planners to consider using nuclear weapons against Iran.
On the current status of US forces, the article adds:
The United States currently has a carrier battle group in the Persian Gulf, led by the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76).
The battle group includes Aegis-class cruisers and destroyers capable of launching cruise missiles, anti-submarine and anti-mine warfare vessels, nuclear submarines, and some 70 attack and support aircraft.
And the United States is not alone in handling maritime security operations in the Persian Gulf. More than a half-dozen other nations participating in three international task forces are helping to keep tabs on the area and on Iran
Full details at the link.
Alcibiades posts at Kesher Talk with an analysis of Britain's reported refusal to back a US strike on Iran:
As far as I can see, there are three possibilities:
1) The story is true at face value. Blair, whose approval ratings are hovering around 30, believes he'll never have enough domestic support to back an invasion and, given the set of facts on the ground, believes that a strike on Iran will not achieve a desirable outcome. This is more or less the position of Iran expert Michael Ledeen, as far as I understand it, so it is not unreasonable. ...
2) Some members or the Gordon Brown clique in the Labor party wants to back Blair into a corner by leaking news of a policy they feel will be a relief to a majority of Britons, thus making it harder for Blair to act contrary to this leaked advise. ...
3) Though, since, one audience that might be glad indeed to hear news of the British government's decision not to turn to military strikes as an option is the British domestic, possibly he is simply reassuring his public. ...
... for now, anyway. And finally, there's a fourth possiblity. Go read the post to find out what it is.