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Iran says a drone attacked the military complex amid an ongoing shadow war


Iran said a drone strike on Saturday lightly damaged a defense ministry complex in the central city of Isfahan, an attack that reverberated in the capitals as tensions with the West and Israel rose over Tehran’s advancing nuclear program, arms supply for the Russian war in Ukraine and the deadly action. months of anti-government protests.

Iran’s defense ministry said three drones struck around 11:30 p.m. local time on Saturday, according to a statement from the state news agency IRNA, in an attack that caused “minor damage to the roof of a workshop”.

Iranian media reported separately that a fire had broken out at an oil refinery near the northwestern city of Tabriz on Saturday. However, local officials told IRNA that there was no attack on the Azarshahr factory complex near Tabriz, nor any other unnamed location in western Hamedan province.

Responsibility for the Saturday strike was not immediately claimed. But Israel has a history of launching strikes against Iranian nuclear program facilities as part of an ongoing shadow war between the two regional rivals, a campaign that appears to have escalated after the US’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, three years later. after the milestone agreement.

Both the Foreign Ministry and the Israeli Defense Forces declined to comment.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak publicly about the issue, said the strike appeared to be the work of the Israeli army, but they could not independently confirm it.

News of Saturday’s attack did draw comment from Ukraine, where Russia has used Iranian-supplied bomb-carrying drones to attack Ukrainian civilians and critical infrastructure far from the front lines.

“War logic is unrelenting and murderous. It strictly bills the authors and accomplices,” Mykhailo Podolyak, senior aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky, tweeted Sunday. “Explosive night in Iran – production of drones and missiles, oil refineries. I have warned you.’

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There appeared to be no direct link between Ukraine and Saturday’s attack, said Farzin Nadimi, an associate at the DC-based Washington Institute think tank.

He said Israel was most likely behind the attack, given the history of Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency, “using drones to attack Iranian military and nuclear sites.” In addition to causing material damage, Nadimi said, these attacks are intended to “send a message to the regime in Tehran that they [Israel] have access to their sensitive locations and that their air defenses are not impenetrable.”

It remains unclear what exactly was hit on Saturday and whether that was the intended target, as is typically the case with these kinds of attacks.

A video of the strike posted on social media and unverified by The Post showed a loud bang and a big yellow flash near a busy highway, filmed in the dark.

“It was a drone, right? It was a drone’, an unknown man is heard to say in Persian with an Isfahan accent.

Nadimi said the site likely contained sensitive information related to Iran’s nuclear technology and weapons program. Across the street from the stricken building is a research center affiliated with Iran’s civilian space program, which is also “very active in supporting the military and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” Nadimi said. The center has a sister facility in the town of Tabriz, the site of the alleged fire, though there was no direct evidence linking the two, according to Nadimi.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on Sunday that the attack in Isfahan “cannot affect the will and intent of our experts for peaceful nuclear progress,” the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.

While Iran insists it is developing nuclear capabilities for peaceful purposes, the United Nations’ top nuclear official, Rafael Mariano Grossi, told European lawmakers last week that Tehran had enriched enough uranium to potentially build “several” nuclear weapons.

Iran has more highly enriched uranium than during the years of tension leading up to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Grossi, who stressed that despite its growing capabilities, Iran had not yet built a nuclear weapon.

Ali Fathollah-Nejad, an Iran expert at the American University of Beirut, said he expected Israel’s alleged “sabotage of Iran’s military and nuclear programs” to increase given the “slim” chance that Israel’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to revive 2016. to contain the development of Iran’s nuclear program.

Among the contributing factors to the stalemate over an eventual revival of the nuclear deal, he said, were “the higher political costs in the West” given Iran’s protests against clerical rule sparked in mid-September by the death of Mahsa Amini, 22. , while in the custody of the country’s so-called vice squad.

The Biden administration has supported the protest movement and has imposed sanctions on Iranian officials for their role in the crackdown, in which authorities killed more than 500 people, executed at least four and arrested about 20,000 others, according to the activist news agency HRANA.

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The unrest in Iran comes amid the return to office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu through a coalition of far-right Jewish nationalists and settler activists and escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

Israel, led by Netanyahu for most of the past decade, is said to have carried out a series of clandestine attacks in Iran, though it rarely comments publicly.

In May, an engineer was killed and another person injured in what Tasnim described as an “accident” at the Parchin military complex southeast of the capital Tehran. The year before an attack, centrifuges at the Natanz underground nuclear power station near Isfahan were said to have been damaged. One of the more brutal attacks attributed to Israel was the 2020 assassination of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh during a daytime attack on his convoy of cars.

Saturday’s strike signals that “Bibi is back,” referring to Netanyahu, “and that the US may be giving Israel more operating room to target Iran given the impasse over nuclear talks, in addition to the West’s frustrations with Iran over its military support to Russia during the war in Ukraine,” Ellie Geranmayeh, senior policy officer at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said in an email.

Jon Hudson contributed reporting.

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