A senior German defense figure said in a report this week that Iran may be significantly further ahead in its nuclear weapons program than public intelligence assessments have so far suggested.

Hans Ruhle, who directed the planning department of the German Defense Ministry from 1982 to 1988, argued that Iran may have been involved in the detonation of an experimental uranium nuclear bomb in North Korea in 2010.

The article, which appeared on the website of the German daily Die Welt, said that many intelligence agencies believe that at least one of the two nuclear tests that occurred in North Korea in 2010 was an Iranian atomic weapon.

Some agencies believe that North Korea used its nuclear weapons expertise to test a weapon of mass destruction on behalf of Iran, Ruhle wrote.

Ruhle, who is widely respected among defense and security officials in Germany, said that “Iran’s military was capable in 2010 of testing a nuclear warhead in North Korea. It is, therefore, not surprising that some intelligence agencies are now of the view that North Korea, in fact, in 2010 conducted at least one nuclear test for Iran.”

Iran expert Ephraim Kam of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Securities Studies said the claim was in the realm of the possible.

“There is cooperation between Iran and North Korea on missiles, but that can also spill over into the nuclear field,” Kam, who served in the Research Division of the IDF’s Military Intelligence, told The Jerusalem Post.

“I wouldn’t say it’s impossible,” he added.

If the report is true, Kam continued, the main question is whether the Iranians were observers, or whether they took an active part in the nuclear experiment.

“If they carried out the test on their own, this is a very different story,” Kam said.

In his article, Ruhle said intelligence agencies have observed close work between North Korean and Iranian nuclear experts.

Ruhle’s report followed an article published in last month’s edition of the scientific journal Nature that said that North Korea likely conducted two secret nuclear weapons tests in 2010. The article was written by Swedish nuclear physicist Lars-Erik de Geer, who works for the Swedish Defense Research Agency in Stockholm.

In December 2010, Western media outlets cited South Korean media reports on a deep tunnel that was being dug by the North Koreans, possibly for a nuclear experiment. Other reports from the same period mentioned an Iranian team of nuclear scientists who had visited North Korea to carry out a joint nuclear test.

Iran expert Prof. Raymond Tanter, who is an adjunct scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the Post that claims in the Die Welt report that Iran had already begun working on its nuclear weapons program in the first half of the 1980s were reinforced by independent evidence.

“In 1984, Tehran built a new nuclear research lab at the Isfahan Nuclear Technology Center (INTC). Well hidden from the IAEA, experiments at INTC included uranium enrichment and fuel production,” said Tanter, who served on the National Security Council staff for the Reagan-Bush White House.

The Isfahan nuclear site received notoriety after an opposition organization, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, exposed a “sprawling uranium conversion facility used to convert uranium ‘yellowcake’ into uranium hexafluoride, the feedstock for centrifuges,” Tanter noted.

“And contrary to [the late supreme leader of Iran] Ayatollah Khomeini’s supposed abhorrence to nuclear weapons as being anti-Islamic, he sent a 1988 letter at the close of the Iran-Iraq War to his top officials acknowledging a need for atomic weapons within five years to win that war,” Tanter added.

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