Recently, Iran has seen two big explosions hit nuclear and military facilities. Experts argue possible theories, including Israeli aggression and internal malfunctions.
Two high profile, yet mysterious, explosions have rocked Iran in the space of 10 days — they have shaken Iran's security and political establishment, triggering curiosity about who exactly is behind them.
The first explosion happened on June 25 at a military facility, where missiles and ammunition were being manufactured. The Iranian authorities first said the Parchin military base was the location of the explosion, but later changed their statement, saying it was somewhere near a missile complex at Khojir, about 30 kilometres away from the Parchin base.
A week later on July 2, another explosion took place in the country’s Natanz nuclear facility, north of the capital. Iranians reported no casualties.
Between the two incidents, on June 30, there was also a deadly fire in Tehran’s Sina Medical Center, killing at least 18 people.
“It [an attack organised by Israelis] is one of the probabilities, but here and right now still no one has a conclusion about what is going on,” said a Tehran-based Iranian journalist, who requested anonymity when asked whether the strike could have possible links to Israel, or another force.
“The first explosion [in the missile complex] could be a regular one and not a terrorist one, but about the second one in Natanz there is a strong possibility about its terrorist nature,” the source told TRT World.
“It could be a part of Israeli stimulus for changing the game against Iran and the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which refers to Iranian nuclear deal], but it could also be related to the MKO [People’s Mujahedin of Iran, which is an anti-revolutionary group fighting Tehran],” she recounted.
The US withdrew from the JCPOA last year, leaving the deal and its main beneficiary Iran in limbo. Both Israel and the US have previously threatened Tehran by suggesting any reactivation of its nuclear program due to Washington’s withdrawal from the agreement, would see them attack Iranian facilities.
The Natanz nuclear facility reportedly houses Iran’s biggest uranium enrichment facility.
Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, who has been known for his hawkish and anti-Iranian stances, raised concerns about Iran’s uranium enrichment program on Tuesday during a UN Security Council meeting.
“Iran is also accumulating dangerous knowledge. Late last year, Iran announced that its scientists were working on a new centrifuge — the IR-9 — that would allow Tehran to enrich uranium up to 50 times faster than the IR-1 centrifuges allowed," Pompeo claimed.
Mehmet Bulovali, an Iraqi Kurdish political analyst, who was an advisor to Iraq’s former Vice President Tariq Hashimi, told TRT World after the first explosion that Israelis were “definitely” behind the incident.
If so, it could be the first Israeli attack on Iran.
When the second explosion occurred, this time in the Natanz nuclear facility on July 2, even some pro-government newspapers in Tehran started to point fingers at Israel, says Bulovali.
The Iraqi expert also believes there’s a possible connection between the increasingly harsh anti-Iranian rhetoric in Washington and the recent explosions.
“The US State Department has recently indicated that Washington will nullify any Iranian nuclear threat and if necessary, it will strike Iranian targets [related to the country’s nuclear program], encouraging Israel,” Bulovali says. “As a result, Israel hit [Iran].”
But Tehran is not directly placing blame on Israel.
“The government usually in cases like this insists it’s just an ‘accident’”, the Iranian source says.
An hour after the explosion in Natanz, the ‘Homeland Cheetahs’ sent messages to Iranian journalists working for the BBC — the group was claiming responsibility for the explosion, theTRT World source says.
“The group’s messages used the language, which is like the MKO, but it also resembles the language of the Twitter account ‘Israel in Farsi’”, the source analyses.
“It is not clear who is doing these if we don't accept the government claims about the explosions,” she adds.
But other Iranian experts are not totally convinced about the Israel theory.
“The name [Homeland Cheetahs] is a joke. They [first] claimed it was a drone strike. Then, they claim it's sabotage [by them]. Which one is it?” asks Mohammed Marandi, an Iranian-American academic and political analyst.
“All important facilities [in Natanz] are underground and well protected. The air defense there is excellent,” Marandi told TRT World, dismissing any drone attack possibility.
“The first one [referring to the explosion in the missile complex] wasn't sabotage. That I know. The second one [the explosion in Natanz] wasn't a drone strike. I know that too. I don't have any information that the second one was sabotage,” Marandi says.
The professor remains unsure that the Natanz explosion was just a causal incident.
“I can't say for certain there was no sabotage. However, since it wasn't a significant ‘target’, it would be foolish to risk assets for something so small,” he says.
The nuclear facility is not a small target given that it is Iran’s largest gas centrifuge uranium enrichment facility.
“It seems like it could be sabotage. It’s a high-value site for the Iranians. It’s a very important building,” David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security, an American nonprofit organisation, which tracks nuclear proliferation, told the New York Times.
The NYT also quoted an anonymous Middle Eastern intelligence source, who said the recent explosion in Natanz was sabotage.
On Thursday, Iran warned its enemies, especially the US and Israel, against crossing Tehran’s “red lines in any way.”