By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
The Iranian regime has buried one of its most faithful sons and a key figure in its national defense, Major General Hassan Moghadam -- the man who founded and is known as the architect of Iran's missile program. Moghadam, who is said to have been held in special favor by Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is credited with launching and developing the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' (IRGC) artillery and missile units.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (second from left) and Revolutionary Guards commander Mohammad Ali Jafari (left) stand next to the coffins of 17 members of the Revolutionary Guards who were killed in a blast at a military base last week. (see more photos)
The commander of the IRGC air defense, Brigadier General Abbas Khani, told the Iranian state news agency IRNA that the Islamic republic owes its missile capability and deterrence to Moghadam.
"As the results of the efforts of martyr Moghadam, our missile capability reached such a level that we were able to hit the heart of Baghdad [during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war]," Khani said, adding that Iran's "enemy" always wanted to identify and eliminate Moghadam.
The fact that Khamenei himself attended the funeral for Moghadam -- who was laid to rest along with 16 other IRGC members killed in a blast over the weekend -- underscores his prominent stature in the country.
Iran has said that the November 12 explosion at a depot at a Revolutionary Guards base in Bid Ganeh, some 40 kilometers from Tehran, was an accident. Officials have said the blast happened as ammunition was being transported.
But "Time" magazine reported on November 14 that the Israeli spy agency Mossad was behind the explosion. The weekly U.S. news magazine quoted an unnamed "Western intelligence source."
"Don't believe the Iranians that it was an accident," the source is quoted as saying, and adds that other acts of sabotage are being planned to prevent Tehran from developing and delivering a nuclear weapon. "There are more bullets in the magazine."
Israeli media also hinted at the possibility that their country was involved in the explosion at the Revolutionary Guards base.
Moghadam's profile and his unexplained presence at the depot at the time of the explosion make speculations that he might have become the latest target of Israeli covert operations against Iran inevitable.
In recent months, a number of Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated and the country's nuclear program has been hit with cyberattacks. Iranian officials have accused Israel of being behind the incidents, which are said to be aimed at slowing Iran's secretive nuclear program.
Yet Anthony Cordesman, who holds the Burke Chair at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, told RFE/RL there is so far no indication that the explosion was an act of sabotage or a carefully targeted effort to kill Moghadam.
"It is one thing to attack Iran's nuclear weapons effort. It is one thing to try to do damage to its missile development effort," Cordesman says. "But simply having a large explosion of high explosives at the scale that has been reported to date is much more the indicator of an accident than some kind of an attack."
Mourners help carry the coffin of one member of the Revolutionary Guards during a state funeral.
While Iranian officials were mourning their dead, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was hailing the explosion and saying publicly that he hopes more such incidents occur.
"I don't know the extent of the explosion," the minister told Israel's military radio when asked about the incident, "but it would be desirable if they multiply."
Trita Parsi, who heads the Washington-based National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and is the author of "Treacherous Triangle: The Secret Dealings Of Iran, Israel and United States," says Israel seem to be "eager" for the world to think that it is behind the explosion.
"You do have a struggle within Israel in which some voices are arguing against military strikes in favor of covert military actions," Parsi says. "Taking credit for something like this may be a valuable point for the internal debate, essentially arguing that these types of covert military action are more successful, less politically costly, and don't have the repercussions a real military assault would have. But there may be also another factor. There may be an interest in actually having the Iranians retaliate and by that launch a larger war."
The explosion comes amid concern over Iran's nuclear activities, which were the focus of a recent report by the International Atomic Energy Agency. For the first time, the UN agency said it had hard evidence that Iran has taken steps to acquire a nuclear weapons capability.
The incident also comes against the backdrop of a debate in U.S. and Israeli media over whether military strikes should be used to halt or slow Iran's nuclear advances.
The reports have been met with concern inside Iran, and officials have threatened to respond with force to any attack against the country.
Death Unlikely To Deter
Cordesman, who has conducted extensive research on Iran's military and nuclear capabilities, says Moghadam's death is unlikely to significantly inhibit Iran's missile program, which he says cannot be separated from the country's nuclear activities.
"That effort has reached the point where they have probably already handled the basic warhead design and the booster design," Cordesman says. "Whatever refinements go on are going to be much more a matter of technological development than the kind of military leadership."
At the November 14 funerals for those killed in the explosion, Karaj's Friday Prayer leader Mohsen Kazerouni said foreign media had tried to "exploit" the incident for their own aims.
He added that the vast presence of Iranians at the funeral had neutralized their "ill-fated" plans.
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