That uranium conversion facility at Esfahan? Not a priority target

Whoi’s hitting non-priority targets?

I’m posting a comment on this because a UK Times reporter has reported being told by Israeli intelligence that the explosion that rocked Esfahan on Monday damaged the compound with the uranium conversion facility (UCF).  (The Times article is reprinted at The Australian.)

The first affirmative quote offered in the article is in this sentence:

Israeli intelligence officials told The Times that there was “no doubt” that the blast struck the nuclear facilities at Isfahan and that it was “no accident.”

Later, an Israeli intelligence source is quoted as follows:

“This caused damage to the facilities in Isfahan, particularly to the elements we believe were involved in storage of raw materials,” said one military intelligence source.

The Times author speaks of satellite imagery showing billowing smoke and damage to the UCF compound.  This is believable, but a few comments are in order.

First, I don’t know of anyone who has suggested the explosion was an accident, other than an Iranian official or two.  If it was not a fuel-based explosion, however, it had to be a very large bomb – something approximating the 3200kg explosive capacity of the Oklahoma City bomb in 1995, or even greater – to generate the window-breaking blast experienced miles away in Esfahan.

Again, a reminder:  the materials being stored or processed at the site could not have caused such an explosion.  If I saw what the Israeli intelligence sources reportedly saw, I would conclude that someone probably detonated a bomb at the UCF.

I would not, however, conclude that it was done by a Western government agency.  There are two reasons for this, both of which I mentioned on Monday. First, the UCF at Esfahan is simply not a priority target in the nuclear network.  It is important, yes, but not worth hitting before anything else – and not worth sending Iranian internal security to high warble over.  Hitting this target, by itself, just doesn’t justify the blowback.  Western governments make their targeting decisions based on criteria that would put the Esfahan UCF several notches down the list of things that need to be struck in November 2011.  It’s a workhorse facility in the fissile-material production network, and it’s already done what needs to be done to assemble an arsenal of multiple weapons.  Uranium conversion is also “mastered technology”; Iran can reconstitute it relatively quickly.

(Notably, the series of explosion at IRGC/government facilities to date has not systematically targeted the critical nodes of the nuclear network.  From a step back, it doesn’t look like an organized campaign to take the network down.)

If hitting the UCF is basically closing the barn door after the cows have gotten out, it also creates a serious risk of releasing contaminants into the atmosphere.  It’s not clear what the Israeli intelligence source meant in saying that the damage caused was “particularly to the elements we believe were involved in storage of raw materials,” but that does raise the spectre of atmospheric reaction with a release of UF6 (or UF4, which may also be stored in some quantity).  See my earlier piece for a link on the contamination threat from a release of UF6.

These factors mean that any decision by a Western government to strike the UCF at Esfahan would be made only in a very different context.  Esfahan would be on the short list of targets to be struck in a campaign to destroy the important nodes in Iran’s nuclear network, but an accountable government would only attack this facility as part of a larger campaign, and in a situation of grave urgency: one that justified imperilling the population of Esfahan, Iran’s third-largest city.

Striking one-off targets on an as-available basis would drive a government-orchestrated campaign to a different top priority.  What needs interdicting, right now, today, is Iran’s weaponization program.  That program is not being pursued at the baseline Esfahan UCF compound (and certainly not in the raw-materials storage area there.  If elements of the weaponization program are housed at Esfahan, it’s probably in the tunnels that were started in 2004-5).

The size of the blast – in the absence of a large fuel depot in the vicinity – indicates the explosion was created deliberately, and if the damage was mainly at a particular area of the UCF, then it would have been generated by a large bomb, set by direct, on-the-ground placement.  It is extremely unlikely that a Western government did it.  Eventually there will be commercial satellite imagery available to confirm where the damage was done and what kind it is.


2005 overview of the facility annotated by ISIS


J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air’s Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, and The Weekly Standard online.

28 thoughts on “That uranium conversion facility at Esfahan? Not a priority target”

  1. ~~~~~I would not, however, conclude that it was done by a Western government agency.~~~~~

    We can’t still discount the possibility, Kid……

    This almost certainly WAS done WITH a western and/or Israeli government.

    Your too rigid analysis is not going to prove correct. This wasn’t THE priority target, but it was a target…and the attraction was that it was possible to hit it….without taking that final step and using aerial bombardment.

    This wasn’t THE attack, it was the final notice that a military attack will come unless iran backs up and backs off.

  2. The first post about the explosion on this site was the opticon bullshirting blindly ,,,and incorrectly of course, and this second bite at anal asis is also gonna prove to be more hot foolish fudge from the Kid.

  3. I understand fuster likes to present himself as incapable of making intelligent distinctions. But for the others here:

    It was and remains the case that it is basically stupid to blow up part of the UCF with a one-time, drive-by explosion that’s not part of a campaign that actually targets other nuclear facilities. The target isn’t worth it, and blowing it up creates an unusual risk.

    No other nuclear facilities have been targeted.

    Were the Israelis stupid? In other words, did they do this? I doubt it. It would have been stupid to.

    I may change my mind about whether they did it if we see more nuclear facilities being blown up. If it’s part of a campaign, it would at least be systematic and explicable — if still stupid to blow up part of the UCF. If you’re prepared to release UF6 anyway, go for the higher-priority compound at Natanz. You’ll get more significant damage for your bang that way.

    There has been no systematic connection between the targets we’ve seen blown up so far. Michael Ledeen’s speculation about insurgents is still a strong possibility. The randomness of the target set suggests they’re being selected based on access and availability, rather than an intention to take down a particular regime capability. What wouldn’t surprise me is if the insurgents have some outside help planning their attacks.

  4. you’re a laugh lately, Kid…..

    you were wrong on the first post, and of course, you’re still wrong …and still talkin out of your ashcan. but then again, you’re usually wrong about what’s happening in Iran….let’s remember that you were saying that the Stuxnet worm was turned loose by the Chinese.

    this was done in conjunction with the West and/or the Israelis……leaking to the London papers is SOP for the Israelis.

    this was a hard jab to snap the Iranian’s heads back and to make sure that their eyes are wide open so that they won’t be proceeding under the impression that nobody is going to be raining bunker busters in them if they press on with the weapons program.

    there won’t be any more explosions at any other nuclear facilities coming from ground level real soon…’re just not going to see that in the immediate future.

    what you’re likely to see is violence aimed at industrial or military/political personnel in a few weeks, maybe something sooner if Iran has their boys ringed around Israel make a move.


    but the real next thing is going to be happening to Assad.

    and you’ll be getting that mostly wrong as well, Kid.

    1. “this was a hard jab to snap the Iranian’s heads back and to make sure that their eyes are wide open so that they won’t be proceeding under the impression that nobody is going to be raining bunker busters in them if they press on with the weapons program.”

      Obama is NOT going to order military strikes against Iran. Nor is he going to give anyone enough bunker busters and logistical support to do the job. Neither are the Brits, French, etc. As for the Israeli’s, they don’t have the conventional resources to effectively derail the Iranian nuclear program. Israel using it’s nukes in a pre-emptive attack is a political non-starter. Russia and China are blocking in the UN any effective actions against Iran.

      The only country that can stop Iran is the US and Obama has no intention of doing anything about it.

      Iran getting the bomb is a virtual certainty. The resulting regional nuclear proliferation is entirely predictable. Only those with their heads firmly planted ‘where the sun don’t shine’ refuse to acknowledge the writing on the wall. Eleventh-hour, in the nick of time happy endings do happen…in the movies.

      1. You are probably right but consider Obama´s personality instead of his place in the left-wing ideological spectrum and I would not be surprised if the great narcissist bombs Iran. But whether he does or not will depend on his perspective on the elections, his interest in his current or next job and whether he is still interested in radical domestic change. Nothing else. His supporters are already proud to boast of his terrorist killing prowess. Deep inside, he doesn´t really care.

        1. Obama’s bellicosity is limited to the domestic political scene, where he understands the parameters of the game he plays. In the foreign affairs sphere his actions are cautious, tentative and uncertain.

          Everything he’s done in the M.E. has effectively supported the emergence of a ‘greater Islam’. Even his military actions in the region are too little, too late. All political cover for maintaining that he’s taking the threat seriously, at least as seriously as a ‘man-made threat’ can be taken…

          Obama is as committed to ‘radical domestic change’ as ever and his re-election is critical to those goals. Given the economy, militarily engaging the Iranians with its unpredictable and problematic unintended consequences (seizure of the Strait of Hormuz, critical to world oil transport, terrorist attacks and even War with Israel) is a political non-starter for Obama.

          1. War with Iran is highly undesirable, but far from a political non-starter for Obama, Geoffrey.

            Why would a bomb run on the Iranian nuclear sites be politically bad for Obama as election time rolls around the Republicans and guys such as yourself are busy saying that he’s not the kind of guy that uses the military…even though there’s massive evidence to the contrary?

  5. Bless your heart, fuster. I don’t think you realize how strong you’re making me with these obsessive attacks.

    For the record, I didn’t say the Chinese perpetrated Stuxnet. I said I considered China more likely than the US and Israel, given that the targeted element of the Iranian program — the centrifuge cascades — was poorly chosen.

    If the timeline reconstructed later by the media is correct, it appears the decision to create and deploy Stuxnet was made in 2007 or 2008, when targeting the centrifuge controllers WAS still a priority. The worm didn’t get into Iranian systems until 2009, however, at a point when the most effective element to target in the program had shifted to the weaponization effort.

    Finally, I will note this. Someone called my attention to your baseless insinuation about me in the comments at my Daily Caller article. That is over the line. You are not in a position to call me a “friend” when you do something like that. This is a warning. I haven’t yet had to decide to cut a commenter off, but that comment was an abuse of my hospitality, and of the congenial atmosphere I hope to foster here at TOC.

    1. I’m sure you’ve the strength of 10 men …because your heart is pure.

      unfortunately your analytic skills are only average.

      ~~~~For the record, I didn’t say the Chinese perpetrated Stuxnet. I said I considered China more likely than the US and Israel…~~~~~

      and also for the record it’s a distinction without any real difference, at best.

      some kids have too much faith in their views and work out their reasons after they’ve jumped to their conclusion.

      I expect that if things heat up in Syria we’ll be discussing some more of your neo-Ottoman mental furniture, Kid Galahad.

      1. Fuster ole buddy, where are you getting you real time intel to base your conclusions?
        How do you know your assessment of an explosion half-way around the world is correct?
        Do you have friends on the ground in Iran?
        Do you have your own Keyhole ?
        Do you have friends in the NRO?
        Have you been to the blast site?
        Have you watched too many episodes of The Unit?
        Are you dreading your next Halo jump?
        Are you having a bad day?
        Fuster, explosions in Iran are nice this time of year. Lets just enjoy them.

        1. It’s the Kid who is having a couple of bed days and bad guesses at stuff.

          then she likes to forget that she said stuff that wasn’t correct.

  6. You mention that an attack such as this would send Iranian internal security into high warble. Is it possible that was the goal? Like getting the mark to reach for his wallet so you know where it is?

    Granted, I’m stretching here, as I don’t know what kind of capabilties we would have to have in order to glean information from the Iranian response.

  7. Interesting question, Cousin Vinnie. The concept of provoking a reaction in order to study it is not out of bounds — McNamara thought it was a great idea in the waters off Vietnam — but in this case, the potential cost seems overly high.

    The potential for rupturing UF6 containment is something a Western government would take seriously. Iranian insurgents (MEK?) wouldn’t, necessarily.

    Given the potential for generating a lot of hydrofluoric acid with a UF6 release, my assessment would be that a foreign government would blow up something else — not at the Esfahan UCF — if its goal were to watch Iranian security go to high warble.

  8. ~~~~~ but that comment was an abuse of my hospitality,~~~~~~~

    that comment wasn’t ON your blog, Kid, so your hospitality wasn’t abused.

    stay strong.

    1. Fuster, did you write something at another site that wasn’t accurate concerning someone we know? Did your comment have anything to do with anything? Was it just a personal slander with no basis in fact? When you go to the personal stuff, you are admitting you case is weak. Just ask the President.
      If it is accurate, prove it. If it is inaccurate, man up and apologize. If you can’t do either, put on a skirt.
      You are smarter than all that crap. Are you sure you aren’t Paulite pretending to be Fuster?

    2. It was an abuse of my hospitality, fuster. Making baseless insinuations — anywhere — about someone at whose blog you enjoy commenting privileges is the definition of that.

      I have neither time nor interest in checking to see what you are saying about me all over the web, but the next time any such comment is brought to my attention, you’re gone.

      1. you got from me just what you dished out to Spencer. Kid.

        gratuitous it was when you did it and gratuitous it was when it was returned to you.

        my apology will follow yours.

        I sent you, via e-mail c/o the Daily Caller, a snippet of his reaction to your post.

  9. Larry Johnson, can flub the trend line for the decade, ‘I think terrorism will be a manageable problem,’ two months before 9/11 and still be taken seriously for the foreseable future, no your aspersions against Jennifer
    were not cool, Herr Grosch

    1. miggs, I thought that Johnson said that terrorism in general was declining, but that the threat from al Qaeda was bucking the trend and that we had to take al Qaeda seriously.

      is that incorrect?

      and my remarks about the invalidity of the opticon’s saying that nations opposed to the Iranian nuclear weapons program would not have been involved in the Isfahan blow-up are going to be borne out.

      she guessed wrong.

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