Blast at Ira­nian bal­lis­tic missile plant ‘was caused by sab­o­tage’

New satel­lite images show charred and black­ened scrub­land above un­der­ground site 20 km east of Tehran

Arab News - - Front Page - Arab News Jed­dah

A mas­sive ex­plo­sion at an Ira­nian missile plant that shook Tehran and sent a mas­sive fire­ball shoot­ing into the night sky was al­most cer­tainly caused by sab­o­tage, a lead­ing security an­a­lyst told Arab News on Satur­day.

The blast hap­pened at the Kho­jir mil­i­tary ex­plo­sive man­u­fac­tur­ing and test­ing site in the Parchin de­fense in­dus­tries area, in the Al­borz moun­tains about 20 km east of the cap­i­tal.

The plant, which has a hid­den un­der­ground tun­nel sys­tem, pro­duces and tests ar­tillery rock­ets and bal­lis­tic and cruise mis­siles. New satel­lite photos of the site showed hun­dreds of me­ters of charred and black­ened scrub­land.

“Al­though mil­i­tary and de­fense in­dus­try ac­ci­dents do oc­cur in Iran, the con­sen­sus ap­pears to be a cy­ber­strike by Is­rael against Iran,” said Dr. Theodore Karasik, se­nior adviser at Gulf State An­a­lyt­ics in Wash­ing­ton, DC.

“The on­go­ing cy­ber­war be­tween Iran and Is­rael is not new. Ira­nian cy­ber­forces at­tacked Is­raeli in­fra­struc­ture in April, specif­i­cally wa­ter and sewage treat­ment fa­cil­i­ties. Is­raeli cy­ber­forces re­tal­i­ated the fol­low­ing month against Ira­nian fa­cil­i­ties, mil­i­tary in­dus­tries and ports. They at­tacked Shahid Ra­jaee Port in an at­tempt to shut it down. “Al­though sab­o­tage can oc­cur from within the fa­cil­ity, that is doubt­ful. But from out­side Iran, that is an­other story. The tac­tic of plac­ing de­fec­tive parts into a sup

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ply chain to cre­ate such an event can­not be ruled out ei­ther.

“To be sure, the tim­ing of the ex­plo­sion is im­por­tant given con­tin­ued Ira­nian mis­chief in the re­gion. As these ten­sions will prob­a­bly grow in the com­ing months, the tit­for-tat na­ture of cy­ber­war is part of a trou­bled security land­scape. The Kho­jir event is a con­tin­u­a­tion of the Stuxnex virus used 10 years ago to dis­rupt and de­ter Tehran’s mil­i­tary in­dus­try.”

Ira­nian state TV said the blast had been caused by leak­ing gas in “a pub­lic area,” but did not ex­plain why the in­ci­dent was han­dled by mil­i­tary of­fi­cials rather than civil­ian fire­fight­ers. The ex­plo­sion on Fri­day ap­peared to have struck a plant op­er­ated by the Shahid Bak­eri In­dus­trial Group, which makes solid-pro­pel­lant rock­ets, said Fabian Hinz, a re­searcher at the James Martin Cen­ter for Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Stud­ies in Cal­i­for­nia.

The Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies in Wash­ing­ton said Kho­jir was the “site of nu­mer­ous tun­nels, some sus­pected of use for arms as­sem­bly.” Large in­dus­trial build­ings at the site vis­i­ble from satel­lite pho­to­graphs also sug­gest missile as­sem­bly.

The US De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency says Iran over­all has the largest un­der­ground fa­cil­ity pro­gram in the Mid­dle East. Such sites “sup­port most facets of Tehran’s bal­lis­tic missile ca­pa­bil­i­ties, in­clud­ing the op­er­a­tional force and the missile de­vel­op­ment and pro­duc­tion pro­gram,” the DIA said in 2019. Iran’s missile and space pro­grams have suf­fered a se­ries of ex­plo­sions. The most no­table was in 2011, when a blast at a missile base near Tehran killed Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard com­man­der Has­san Tehrani Moghad­dam and 16 oth­ers. Au­thor­i­ties of­fi­cially said the blast was an ac­ci­dent, but con­ducted se­cret in­ter­ro­ga­tions on sus­pi­cion that Is­rael was be­hind it.

HIGH­LIGHTS

Iran’s missile and space pro­grams have suf­fered a se­ries of ex­plo­sions.

The most no­table was in 2011, when a blast at a missile base near Tehran killed Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard com­man­der Has­san Tehrani Moghad­dam and 16 oth­ers.

Au­thor­i­ties of­fi­cially said the blast was an ac­ci­dent, but con­ducted se­cret in­ter­ro­ga­tions on sus­pi­cion that Is­rael was be­hind it.

AFP

The blast that sent a fire­ball shoot­ing into the night sky hap­pened at Iran’s Kho­jir mil­i­tary ex­plo­sive test­ing area. Inset: A satel­lite image shows the ex­plo­sion site.

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