New Delhi: There have been three major explosions in Iran in the last three weeks, the latest taking place in the early hours of Friday just west of capital Tehran, which led to power outages in two neighbourhoods, as reported by Iranian state media.
The first two explosions had taken place at Khojir, Iran’s largest missile production facility, and at Natanz nuclear base, which houses its centrifuge assembly.
The three explosions near key strategic facilities have left the civilian and military leaderships unnerved.
There have been more mysterious incidents in the past few weeks — an explosion at a medical clinic in Tehran on 30 June, killing 19 people; a large fire in Shiraz on 3 July; and explosions at a power plant in Ahwaz and the Karoun petrochemical plant in Mahshahr on 4 July.
While the exact cause of these explosions remains unclear, there are contradictory explanations being provided by Iran’s state authorities and independent analysts who study its nuclear and military activities. For instance, a Middle-Eastern intelligence official reportedly claimed that Israel might be behind the incident at Natanz, but state authorities have not revealed the results of the investigation looking into the causes of the explosion.
The explosions have also taken place at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has engulfed Iran, with over 250,000 cases and over 12,000 deaths; its economy has been crippled by American sanctions, and its currency is practically in free-fall.
Also read: Second wave of Covid-19 infections hits Iran
Friday’s blast was followed by several contradictory reports put out by the Iranian state media.
Initially, it reported the blast citing online posts by residents in the nearby cities of Qods and Garmdareh. Soon, the mayor of Garmaderh said the sound heard by his city’s residents was an “explosion at a factory making gas cylinders”.
But the member of parliament from the affected area, Hossein Haghverdi, contradicted both the state media and the mayor, saying there was no explosion at all.
Now Iranian officials are altogether denying reports of an explosion west of Tehran, according to the BBC.
While the precise location of this blast is not known, according to analysts there are many military training facilities in this area.
“There are two underground facilities, a site associated with chemical weapons research and an unidentified military production site,” Fabian Hinz, an Iran military expert at James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told the New York Times.
Previous blasts were even more serious
The first blast took place in Khojir, Iran’s largest manufacturing facility for missiles, on 26 June.
“The blast shook homes, rattled windows and lit up the horizon early Friday in the Alborz mountains. State TV later aired a segment from what it described as the site of the blast,” noted a report in the Washington Post.
While Iranian authorities claimed that the blast occurred due to a gas tank explosion, subsequent satellite imagery revealed that the missile facility had a network of underground tunnels and was near the Parchin military base, which was earlier a focus of international nuclear inspectors.
Then, on 2 July, a fire began at Natanz, Iran’s key nuclear enrichment site. Three days later, the Iranian government acknowledged that the incident has caused substantial damage and set back the country’s nuclear programme by a few months.
Following the incident at Natanz, the Iranian government commissioned an investigation. Once the investigation was concluded, the Supreme National Security Council of Iran said the cause of the explosion had been “determined” but it could not reveal the findings because of “national security concerns”.
However, some unnamed Iranian officials told Reuters that they suspected Israel to be behind these attacks. Iran’s state media also seemed to hint at Israel’s alleged involvement in the explosion at Natanz.
“In a rare acknowledgement, Iran’s state news agency Irna said the fire at Natanz could have been the result of sabotage ‘by hostile countries, especially the Zionist regime [Israel] and the US’. Iran’s civil defence chief has vowed to ‘respond’ if it turns out Iran was the victim of a cyberattack,” noted a report in the BBC.
When the Israeli foreign minister was asked if his country was behind this incident, he remarked, “Our actions in Iran [are] better left unsaid”.
Several unnamed sources continue hint towards Israel’s involvement. But according to analysts, traditionally, neither has Tehran directly blamed Tel Aviv for such incidents, nor has Israel ever publicly owned them.