Ya'alon: 'I read about Iran blast in the paper'

Strategic affairs minister says "every incident like this delays Iran's nuclear program"; Israeli intelligence officials confirm explosion damaged Fordow nuclear facility, according to 'The Sunday Times'; Iran denies report.

Ahmadinejad at nuclear ceremony in Tehran 390 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ahmadinejad at nuclear ceremony in Tehran 390 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Strategic Affairs Minister and Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon said Monday that he had read in the newspaper about the alleged explosion at Iran's Fordow Iranian nuclear facility.
In an interview with Army Radio, Ya'alon refused to comment specifically on reports of a mysterious blast at the underground bunker, only commenting that "in the past we heard about worms and viruses and explosions. Every incident like this delays Iran's nuclear program."
Meanwhile, Israeli intelligence officials confirmed that an explosion damaged Iran’s Fordow nuclear facility, which is being used to enrich uranium, The Sunday Times reported.
According to the report, an Israeli official said the country is still in the "preliminary stages of understanding what happened and how significant it is." The Times quoted the official as saying  he did not know if the explosion was "sabotage or accident."
The Times said the official refused to comment on reports that Israeli aircraft were seen near the facility at the time of the explosion.
Israel believes Iran has not evacuated the surrounding area, the Times reported.
According to the original report of the mysterious blast, penned by former Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Reza Kahlili, for the WND.com website, the explosion “destroyed much of the installation and trapped about 240 personnel deep underground.”
The Jerusalem Post could not confirm the veracity of the report.
Iran denied the reports describing them as "Western propaganda" designed to influence upcoming nuclear negotiations.
The false news of an explosion at Fordow is Western propaganda ahead of nuclear negotiations to influence their process and outcome," state news agency IRNA quoted the deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Saeed Shamseddin Bar Broudi, as saying late on Sunday.
The IRNA report also quoted the head of parliament's national security and foreign affairs committee, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, strongly denying there had been an explosion.
According to the WND report, the explosion “destroyed much of the installation and trapped about 240 personnel deep underground.”
Kahlili, who says he turned CIA agent in the 1980s and 90s, cited a “source in the security forces protecting Fordow” as saying that the blast occurred last Monday at Fordow, which is located deep inside a mountain to protect it from aerial attack.
“The blast shook facilities within a radius of three miles. Security forces have enforced a no-traffic radius of 15 miles, and the Tehran- Qom highway was shut down for several hours after the blast,” the report added.
Click here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threat
Click here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threat
The existence of the Fordow enrichment plant was kept secret by Iran, until it was discovered by Western intelligence in 2009, and the question of how long it had been in operation remains unanswered.
Emily Landau, director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Project at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, noted on Sunday that Iran is enriching uranium to 20 percent at Fordow, “and it raises concerns because it is buried deep in a mountain.”
She added, “There have been many references to the fact that Israel doesn’t have strong enough bombs to penetrate it from the air, but the US MOP [massive ordnance penetrator] is reported to be able to penetrate it.”
Landau added that reports surfaced six months ago saying that the MOP is operational.
The shutting down of Fordow is one of the three demands made on Iran by the P5+1 nations during talks with the Islamic Republic.
According to a 2011 IAEA report, Iran is testing detonators for nuclear blasts at its secret base in Parchin, and has refused to allow UN inspectors access to the site.
Yaakov Lappin and reuters contributed to this report.