The recent exposure of the secret uranium enrichment facility at Qom may have come as a shock to the populations of Western countries. However, it was not a surprise to Western intelligence agencies. For years, the CIA, MI6 and the French secret service, DGSE, were monitoring its construction and progress, until their governments finally decided to declare its existence last week.
So are there more secret locations? Although we cannot be sure, the consensus amongst analysts is that there are. This is based on a number of factors.
First, after the exposure of the Qom facility, Iran’s credibility has been damaged severely. Fewer and fewer people are going to believe Iran’s statements that Tehran has declared all of its facilities to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
President Ahmadinejad damaged his credibility even further by stating that Iran informed the IAEA about the site a year ago. In fact, the IAEA said it received the news only last Monday.
Second, the evidence from the new facility strongly suggests that Iran wants to build a bomb. According to its stated declarations, Iran wants to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, in order to produce fuel for its nuclear reactors (which are yet to be built). To do that Iran needs somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 centrifuges. Its current facility at Natanz has the capacity for 54,000 centrifuges. So why does Iran need another facility? And why did it hide it until now?
More importantly, why does the new facility at Qom have capacity for 3,000 centrifuges — which is enough to make a bomb, but not nuclear fuel?
These questions point to the real reasons Tehran hid the plant in Qom, and why it would want to hide more facilities.
For now, Mr Ahmadinejad is using the outcry over the new facility to his advantage domestically. It is a useful tool which he uses to portray Iran as the victim. After his disastrous trip to the UN, which even raised objections in Iran, he needs to divert public attention and this crisis has come at the right time.
He sees that he has nothing to lose from this affair. Should Iran become isolated internationally, it would provide him with a suitable atmosphere to crack down on demonstrators with even more vigour and strength.
On the other hand, the recent revelation has improved the West’s bargaining power, which it can use in negotiations for sanctions. But if the Iranian regime has realised that it is only a few years away from achieving its nuclear goals, then no amount of talks or sanctions would dissuade it. Perhaps not even a military attack.