In public Sunday, President Obama was at a summit unsuccessfully leaning on Russia and China to back diplomatic efforts to curb Iran’s nuke program.
In private Sunday, there was more evidence of an efficient and brutal covert operation that continues to degrade Iran’s military capabilities.
Iranian officials revealed that one of the 17 men killed in a huge explosion at a munitions depot was a key Revolutionary Guard commander who headed Iran’s missile program. And the IRNA state news agency reported that scientists had discovered a new computer virus in their systems, a more sophisticated version of the Stuxnet worm deployed last year to foul up Iran’s centrifuges.
Iran said the army base explosion was an accident and the new Duqu virus was contained. But Israeli newspapers and some U.S. experts said it appeared to be more from an ongoing secret operation by the CIA and Israel’s Mossad to eliminate Iran’s nuclear threat.
The covert campaign encompasses a series of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists since 2007 and a similar explosion at another Iranian missile base two years ago both widely attributed to the Mossad.
“May there be more like it,” was all Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said when Army Radio asked about the new blast.
There was a third mysterious event: The son of a top Iranian hard-liner was found dead — a seeming suicide — in a Dubai hotel on Sunday. His father called it “suspicious” and linked to the base explosion, without elaborating.
Israel was accused of deploying the 11 agents who killed a top Hamas terrorist in a Dubai hotel last year.
Tension has risen in recent weeks between Iran and the United States as a key United Nations report said Iran was close to being able to build a nuclear weapon.
At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Hawaii, Obama tried to get Russia and China to back a bid to tighten sanctions on Iran, meeting individually with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Afterward, Hu didn’t even mention Iran, and Medvedev said only that he had spoken with Obama about Iran.
Obama came under withering fire from the GOP presidential candidates at a debate Saturday, when the front-runners agreed he had been too weak on Iran and vowed to go to war to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions if needed.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) slammed Obama for not being “smart” on Iran.
Gingrich said he would launch “maximum covert operations” against Iran, “including taking out their scientists. . . . All of it covertly, all of it deniable.”
White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters that pressure on Iran had put its leadership in disarray, and “the Iranian economy has ground to a halt.”