In the early morning hours of Tuesday an explosion at a factory south of Tehran killed two people and seriously injured three others. It is the latest in a string of deadly fires and explosions that have broken out at military and industrial installations in the country, including the Natanz nuclear facility and a missile assembly plant. While official statements have described the incidents as accidents and downplayed the damage caused, they have also warned that if it can be determined that any of the explosions were due to sabotage by Iran’s enemies it would respond accordingly.
The latest explosion, which destroyed a factory in Tehran and caused extensive damage to a neighbouring factory, was described as an accident and attributed to human error which caused oxygen tanks stored there to explode.
Several days earlier, an explosion damaged a power plant in the Iranian city of Ahvaz on Saturday. A few hours later, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported that a chlorine gas leak at a petrochemical centre in southeast Iran had injured 70 workers. Last week, there was an explosion at a medical centre in Teheran, described by Iranian officials as an accident and attributed to faulty gas canisters.
Also last week, an explosion occurred at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, and six days before that a large blast was felt in Tehran, apparently caused by an explosion at the Parchin military complex, believed by Western analysts to be the location of an underground tunnel complex that includes missile production facilities. The explosion and subsequent fire were blamed on leaking gas tanks.
Iranian officials admitted last week that the fire at Natanz caused “considerable” damage, after satellite images appeared revealing widespread devastation. They had previously sought to downplay the damage from the blaze, which destroyed an above-ground laboratory used to prepare advanced centrifuges for installation in the underground facilities.
Natanz, also known as the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant, is among the sites now monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency after Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
The IAEA said in a statement it was aware of reports of the fire. “We currently anticipate no impact on the IAEA’s safeguards verification activities.”
According to a spokesman for Iran’s atomic agency, the building was constructed in 2013. However, work was suspended at the plant in 2015 pursuant to the JCPOA nuclear deal. When the United States unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018 operations were renewed. The spokesman said that the fire had damaged “precision and measuring instruments” at the facility.
There was “no nuclear material [at the building] and no potential of pollution,” the spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Behrouz Kamalvandi told state television. Kamalvandi said no radioactive material or personnel were present.
He noted that the cause was being investigated, and said the fire had led to “some structural damage.”
There was “no interruption to the work of the enrichment site itself,” which “is working at the pace it used to,” Kamalvandi said. LINK
Although the incident was described as an “accident” and the damage caused was dismissed as not substantial, Iranian officials subsequently warned that Iran would weigh its response to “hostile countries” if it was determined that they were responsible for the explosion.
Hours after the announcement, Iran’s state news agency IRNA published an editorial warning that “if there are signs of hostile countries crossing Iran’s red lines in any way, especially the Zionist regime (Israel) and the United States, Iran’s strategy to confront the new situation must be fundamentally reconsidered.”
IRNA also reported that unnamed Israeli social media accounts had claimed the Jewish state was responsible for the “sabotage attempts.”
It stressed that Iran had tried “to prevent escalations and unpredictable situations while defending its position and national interests”.
Several contradictory accounts have since appeared in Western media purporting to explain the cause of the fire. According to a report by the BBC, the fire was set by a group of dissident Iranian officers.
The New York Times quoted an unnamed Middle Eastern intelligence official saying an explosion had taken place as the result of a bomb planted inside the facility. “The blast was caused by an explosive device planted inside the facility,” the Times quoted the official saying, and “destroyed much of the aboveground parts of the facility where new centrifuges… are balanced before they are put into operation.”
Asked about reports of the incident at a press conference Thursday evening, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brushed aside the question: “I don’t address these issues,” he said.
In Washington, the State Department said that US officials were “monitoring reports of a fire at an Iranian nuclear facility.” It added: “This incident serves as another reminder of how the Iranian regime continues to prioritize its misguided nuclear program to the detriment of the Iranian people’s needs.” LINK
While it remains impossible to identify the cause of the incidents for the moment, presumably US and Israeli officials are well satisfied with the sequence of destructive mishaps afflicting Iran. No doubt the psychological war of nerves, information and misinformation will continue.
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