Blast at Iranian ballistic missile plant ‘was caused by sabotage’, says security analyst

This combo image from the European Commission's Sentinel-2 satellite shows a June 21, 2020 photo (top) of the Iran blast site and after the explosion on June 26, 2020. (European Commission via AP)
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Updated 28 June 2020

Blast at Iranian ballistic missile plant ‘was caused by sabotage’, says security analyst

  • New satellite images show charred and blackened scrubland above underground site 20km east of Tehran
  • Iranian state TV said the blast had been caused by leaking gas in ‘a public area’

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 supply 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 tit-for-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.


Iran virus deaths surge past 24,000

Updated 20 September 2020

Iran virus deaths surge past 24,000

  • President Hassan Rouhani blamed people’s failure to observe preventive measures, especially wearing masks, for the surge in cases

JEDDAH: The official coronavirus death toll in Iran surged past 24,000 on Saturday as health chiefs admitted 90 percent of COVID-19 patients on ventilators in hospital were dying.

Payam Tabarsi, head of infectious diseases at Masih Daneshvari Hospital in Tehran, said the number of emergency room patients had jumped from 68 a day to 200 in the past week. “People are queuing to be admitted,” he said, and if the trend continued, deaths from coronavirus could reach 600 a day within weeks.

Iran’s total number of confirmed cases in the past 24 hours spiked by 2,845 to 419,043 and the death toll rose by 166 to 24,118, Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said.

Iran was slow to react to the first coronavirus cases in February, and is now battling the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak. Daily infections have remained above 2,000 for the past two weeks and are nearing the 3,574 high reached in early June.

Analysts both inside and outside Iran are skeptical of the official figures and believe the true level of infections and deaths is far higher. President Hassan Rouhani blamed people’s failure to observe preventive measures, especially wearing masks, for the surge in cases.

“Today, the Health Ministry gave a worrying report,” he said on Saturday. “The public’s observance, which was 82 percent in earlier weeks, has fallen to 62 percent.”

FASTFACTS

  • Iran’s total number of confirmed cases in the past 24 hours spiked by 2,845 to 419,043 and the death toll rose by 166 to 24,118. •Daily infections have remained above 2,000 for the past two weeks and are nearing the 3,574 high reached in early June. •551 new cases were reported in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, taking the total to 329,271. •Worldwide, the virus has infected just under 31 million people and killed nearly 960,000, amid fears of a ‘second wave.’
  • Daily infections have remained above 2,000 for the past two weeks and are nearing the 3,574 high reached in early June.
  • 551 new cases were reported in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, taking the total to 329,271.
  • Worldwide, the virus has infected just under 31 million people and killed nearly 960,000, amid fears of a ‘second wave.’

Meanwhile in Saudi Arabia daily coronavirus case numbers have fallen to a five-month low after 551 new cases were reported on Saturday, taking the total to 329,271. The death toll rose by 28 to 4,458. The last time the Kingdom recorded numbers in the 500s was April 15, when 518 cases were reported.

Worldwide, the virus has infected just under 31 million people and killed nearly 960,000, amid fears of a “second wave” of the pandemic after the first outbreaks early in the year.

European countries from Denmark to Greece have announced new restrictions to curb surging infections in some of their largest cities, and Britain is considering new measures to tackle an “inevitable” second wave of COVID-19.

The UK has reported the fifth-largest number of deaths from COVID-19 in the world, after the US, Brazil, India and Mexico. “We are now seeing a second wave coming in ... it is absolutely, I’m afraid, inevitable, that we will see it in this country,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

England’s public health chief Yvonne Doyle said: “We’re seeing clear signs this virus is now spreading across all age groups and I am particularly worried by the increase … among older people. This could be a warning of far worse things to come.”