Iran buries its missile defense 'architect'

Western intel official tells 'TIME' that Mossad was behind missile base blast; Khamenei appears at officer's funeral.

Coffin of Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Jamejam Online/Ebrahim Norouzi)
Coffin of Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jamejam Online/Ebrahim Norouzi)
Iran on Monday buried a senior military officer it called the "architect" of its missile defenses, killed in a massive explosion at a Revolutionary Guards' arms depot that authorities said was an accident.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attended the ceremony for Brigadier General Hassan Moqaddam and the 16 other Revolutionary Guards who died in the explosion at their military base on Saturday. The blast was so big it was felt in the capital Tehran, some 45 km (28 miles) away.
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Officials said the accident happened as troops were moving munitions at the base west of Tehran and have denied suggestions that it may have been sabotage. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for better observance of safety standards at military sites.
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On October 12 last year, a similar blast at a Revolutionary Guards munitions store killed and wounded several servicemen in Khoramabad, western Iran. Authorities said that explosion was an accident.
"Martyr Moqaddam was the main architect of the Revolutionary Guards' canon and missile power and the founder of the deterrent power of our country," Hossein Salami, the deputy head of the Revolutionary Guards, said in a eulogy at the funeral, state broadcaster IRIB reported.
The Revolutionary Guards were set up in parallel to the regular army after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and became a hugely powerful military and economic body.
A veteran of the eight-year Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, Moqaddam's importance was underlined by the appearance of Khamenei at his funeral and a personal visit to his family by Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi to convey Ahmadinejad's condolences.
While there was no indication of any kind of attack, the timing of the explosion -- amid rising tensions with Israel and the West over Iran's nuclear program -- was likely to spark speculation about the incident.
Nevertheless, a Western intelligence source told TIME magazine Monday that the Mossad was behind the explosion at the Iranian missile base. "Don't believe the Iranians that it was an accident," the official was quoted by the the US magazine as saying.
The unnamed official added that more sabotage is being planned to stop Iran's ability to build nuclear weapons and delivery systems for them, saying, "There are more bullets in the magazine."
A report published by the United Nations nuclear agency last week that contained what it called credible evidence pointing to military dimensions to Iran's atomic activities fueled demands in Washington and Europe for more sanctions on Tehran and increased talk of using military strikes to prevent it getting the bomb.
Khamenei responded by saying the Revolutionary Guards would "answer attacks with strong slaps and iron fists".
Military experts say bombing Iran's military sites would be more risky than similar actions Israel has made in the past in Iraq and reportedly in Syria.
Iran has said several assassinations of nuclear scientists, and cyber attacks are covert operations by Israel and its allies to undermine the atomic work it says is entirely peaceful.