Iran is Building a Secret Tunnel in Tehran for Nuclear Weapons Research and Development: Options for the International Community

January 31, 2006

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear


Raymond Tanter


Iran Policy Committee

Good morning ladies and gentlemen of the press and interested observers.

The Threat

I. Iran's Growing Nuclear Weapons Capabilities

Alireza Jafarzadeh ended his presentation with a summary of the growing gap between the words and deeds of the regime in Tehran. The building of yet another tunnel in Tehran is not a public works program for unemployed nuclear engineers but a weapons program run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. The Government of Iran does not use the Rev Guards to generate electricity from nuclear power; rather, Tehran uses the Guards to generate political-military power from nuclear weapons research and development.

BOTTOM LINE: Military locations + nuclear sites = nuclear weapons research and development

Similarly, the Government of Iran does not need to hide peaceful nuclear power construction in double-layered fiber glass encased radiation-leak-proof tunnels. Rather, such hidden construction sites at military bases are indicators of weapons-related activities.

BOTTOM LINE: Hidden nuclear R&D + Military base locations = nuclear weapons R&D

While the regime claims to have the right to conduct pure research on nuclear issues as a symbol of the technological sophistication of Iran, at issue is not basic research but R&D of a weapons-related nature.

II. Paul Leventhal ended his presentation on this panel with a focus on Lavizan II disclosures by the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

What is the significance of Lavizan II?

In March 2003, National Council of Resistance of Iran disclosed intelligence about a secret site used by the Defense Ministry-Lavizan Shian or Lavizan I. Following the disclosure, the Ministry of Defense moved the equipment out of the site and razed the premises to foreclose further information of the secret nuclear activities from leaking. It is easier for the regime to prevent leaks of radioactive particles than to deter dissidents from leaking nuclear weapons R&D.

In March 2004, a series of satellite images taken from Bagh Shian area in Lavizan District revealed that Iran's Ministry of Defense completely demolished the area and the roads leading to the site in an attempt to eliminate every trace of its secret activities.

A reason for razing Lavizan I between March 2003 and March 2004 was that Iran was already under IAEA inspections and was planning to hide its suspected work in Lavizan I before the IAEA could get there.

And in February 2005, the National Council of Resistance of Iran disclosed that Tehran was producing Polonium-210 at the Lavizan II military site, which the NCRI first revealed in November 2004. Polonium-210 emits an Alfa source, which in conjunction with Beryllium metal, produces a neutron source that serves as the trigger for fission chain reaction in a nuclear bomb explosion.

In seeking to explain why the Lavizan Shian site disappeared, the regime stated that there was a dispute between the municipality and the Defense Ministry over land use and the City won the bureaucratic battle, resulting in a park being built instead of a nuclear site run by the Defense Ministry. While the demolition derby was underway, moreover, the municipality of Tehran's officials could not gain access to the land that was to become a park because the military would not allow such access.

If you believe the Iranian military would yield valuable property under its control to the City of Tehran while denying its officials access to the land that was to become a park, I have a tunnel to sell you that connects Brooklyn to Manhattan or better yet that connects Arlington Virginia to Washington DC.

BOTTOM LINE: Delays in permitting international inspection + razing of nuclear sites = nuclear weapons research and development

Options for the International Community


There is a Russian offer on the table of talks with Iran. It is to allow enrichment of Iranian nuclear fuel to take place in Russia. If Iran accepts the Russian offer, resumes talks with the EU-3, and withdraws its threatened actions in return for non-referral to the Security Council, such an outcome is bound to be a pyrrhic victory for the international community-one achieved with excessive costs, given Tehran's record of concealment and cheating on international agreements.

To minimize such costs, it would be wise for the Governing Board of the IAEA to refer Iran to the UN Security Council for action. While proceeding to the United Nations, however, military planning should continue.

Referral of Iran's Nuclear File from the International Atomic Energy Agency to the United Nations

IAEA Board of Governors vote to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council (U.S., U.K., France - yes; Russia, China-abstain)

Chapter 7: Sanctions binding on member states

· Resolution expressing condemnation of Iran

· Resolution setting a deadline and sequence of required steps by Iran

· Resolution to impose sanctions on Iran

o Economic and Trade sanctions

§ Ban on oil purchases

§ Ban on oil pipeline transport or use

§ Revocation of Iranian airline landing and/or overflight rights through U.N.'s International Civil Aviation Organization

§ Revocation of Iranian shipping privileges: transit of national waters, docking, port calls via the International Maritime Organization

§ Prohibition of all or some financial transactions with Iran by member states

§ Freezing of Iranian government assets in member states' banks

§ Withdrawal of all/some support for Iranian participation in international lending organizations (IMF, World Bank, EBRD, IBRD, etc.)

§ Suspension of Iran's WTO membership privileges

Unilateral Options for the United States

White House

o Public statements of support from American officials in favor of imprisoned Iranian political leaders, journalists, students, bloggers-by name

o Public statements of condemnation for irresponsibility of Iranian regime in failing to meet its obligations to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and for putting country in perilous situation vis-à-vis the international community

o Public statements of condemnation of Iran's nuclear weapons program

o Public warnings about U.S. military, other options vs. Iranian regime

o President Bush should publicly declare regime change in Iran is U.S. official policy

o Public declarations, demonstrations of support for Israel, especially though March election period

o President Bush should devote a strongly-worded section of the State of the Union Address to Iran and include appropriate opposition figure(s) in the audience

o Vice President Cheney and President Bush should deliver administration's message about Iran in speeches at appropriate locations around the country in a concentrated schedule of appearances

Department of State

o Secretary of State should continue work with U.S. partners and allies to solidify diplomatic support for strong action at the U.N. Security Council

o Refuse to issue permission to Iran's U.N. representatives to travel beyond usual 25-mile NYC radius

o Refuse to issue visas to Iran's U.N. representatives to enter the country

o Revocation of the visas of Iran's U.N. representatives

o Declare Iran's U.N. representatives Persona Non Grata (PNG)

o Permit Iran's U.N. representatives 48-hours to leave the country

o Deploy Bureau of Public Diplomacy staff to mount global offensive with friends, allies and others to expose Iranian regime duplicity on nuclear issues, support for terrorism, involvement in narcotics and prostitution trafficking

While diplomacy seems to be failing, military action to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities also looks difficult to accomplish. Nevertheless, military action should be left on the table to reinforce diplomatic initiatives


Department of Defense

§ Limited Military Actions

o Order U.S. Naval vessels to shadow/harass Iranian ships at sea in international waters

o Order U.S. Air Force to conduct intrusions, overflights of Iranian territory

o Execute sabotage missions vs. Iranian WMD sites in-country by SpecOps teams or proxies

o Conduct selective targeted killings of regime leadership and key WMD infrastructure personnel inside Iran

o Begin to move aircraft carriers toward Persian Gulf

§ Moderate Military Actions

o Limited naval blockade that overtly conducts surveillance and harasses Iranian flagged shipping

o stationing of U.S. Marine amphibious forces off the coast; overt equipping of Iranian dissident groups; limited precision strikes or special operations activities against known WMD targets or munitions factories

§ Maximum Military Actions

o Airstrikes to disable and destroy command and control centers, anti-aircraft capabilities, as well as key military and logistics centers

o Full-scale naval blockade

o landing of U.S. Marine Corps amphibious forces at strategic locations

o Introduction of airborne, Ranger, Green Beret, or SEAL forces to seize key objectives

o Cross-border invasion by land forces

Military Action: Bunker-Busting Bombs Delivered via Stealth Aircraft

Underground tunnels that hide Iran's nuclear program from the prying eyes of the IAEA also complicate military action against nuclear facilities and missile complexes. Iran's facilities are hidden, hardened, and dispersed so as to make it difficult for military strikes to destroy the facilities. Although Stealth airplanes might be able to penetrate the radar systems of Iran, it is unclear whether it would be possible for the bombs to penetrate Iran's underground nuclear and missile facilities.

Given failing diplomacy, lack of resolve for coercive diplomacy, and risks inherent in military action, there is a need for a third set of options-regime change in Tehran.

In order to begin the process of regime change, the United States has to come to grips with the fact that the only Iranian opposition groups Tehran fears is the Mujahedin e-Khalq and its political family of organizations in the National Council of Resistance of Iran.


White House

President Bush should issue a Finding or Presidential Directive authorizing all appropriate measures to effect regime change in Iran State Department should take immediate action to remove the Mujahedin e-Khalq MEK from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list

Intelligence Community

Launch propaganda covert action inside Iran Sow doubt within regime Encourage opposition to take action Attempt unification of opposition factions Incite infighting within regime by setting various figures, factions against one another Inform the population about Iran's nuclear weapons program Demonstrate to Iranian population existence of outside support for regime change Organize covert action propaganda, press placements, demonstrations, vs. Iranian diplomatic, military and commercial representations abroad Perform surreptitious entry operations against Iranian diplomatic, other representatives' homes and offices abroad Mount harassing surveillance of Iranian diplomatic, MOIS representatives serving abroad

Coercive diplomacy, military action, and regime change for Iran are three options for the international community

Rather than sliding into military action as diplomacy fails, it is time to consider regime change for Iran.

To avoid having to choose between failing diplomacy and difficult military action, the international community should place regime change in Tehran on the diplomatic table.

But the international community should realize that there is only one group to which the regime pays attention and fears-the Mujahedeen-e Khalq and the political coalition of which the MEK is a part-the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

By delisting the NCRI and MEK from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations listing maintained by the Department of State, it would allow regime change to be on the table against Tehran.

With regime change in the open, Tehran would have to face a choice about whether to slow down in its drive to acquire nuclear weapons or not.