Iranian Explosions and Fires – Foreign Attacks or Internal Sabotage?

Hamed Saber via Wikimedia Commons

Significant incendiary incidents have shaken Iran in recent weeks, with the country experiencing a series of major, unexplained explosions and fires at important civilian and military facilities.

As reported by the BBC, the mysterious incidents, beginning in late June, have “included explosions and fires at a missile facility, a power plant, a medical clinic, and a nuclear complex.”

While Iranian leaders, and many in the Western press, point fingers at the United States and Israel, other experts are noting these attacks, spread throughout the country, may be the result of an internal “campaign of sabotage.”

The latest incident came today when a massive fire erupted at a shipyard in southeastern Iran, setting at least seven ships ablaze, according to state news agencies, said Al-monitor.

Describing today’s port fire, Al-monitor reported, “Pillars of thick smoke billowed over the Delvar Shipyard in Bushehr, the port city home to Iran’s only nuclear power station.” Earlier in the day, another fire caused “minor damage” at the South Aluminum Corporation in Lamerd in southern Iran, Iran’s Mehr News Agency reported, according to AFP.

Iranian officials unconvincingly blamed that last fire on an “oil leak.”

Both incidents come just days after six storage tanks caught fire at an industrial complex in northeast Iran, south of the city of Mashhad, and one tank exploded. Reuters quoted the fire chief at the Kavian Fariman industrial complex as saying that the incident is under investigation.

On Saturday, several gas cylinders exploded inside the basement of an apartment building in the Iranian capital of Tehran, the capital’s fire department said.

Most seriously, Iranian officials also eventually confirmed an “incident” occurred on July 2 at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility about 150 miles south of the capital. Intelligence officials reportedly told The New York Times that production at the complex was left in “charred ruins” from the fire. They also said it could take up to two years to return to its previous capacity.

Satellite photography appears to confirm these reports

According to the BBC, “Iranian officials have said they are looking into whether sabotage by foreign powers or domestic opposition groups may have been the cause of earlier blasts” at the Natanz plant and the Khojir missile production facility.

Analyzing the June 26 blast at the Khojir missile facility, the New York Times quoted Fabian Hinz, an expert on Iran’s military at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California. Hinz said, “It seems likely that some sort of gas or liquid storage tank blew up,” adding: “Probably industrial gas that’s needed for missile production.”

Despite the Iranian regime’s desire to pin these incidents on the U.S. or Israel, some evidence points to domestic sabotage. The BBC reported that a group reportedly composed of dissidents within Iran’s military and security forces claimed responsibility for the attack on Natanz.

The group – calling itself Homeland Cheetahs, also said that they “had been behind numerous attacks that the Iranian authorities had so far concealed from the public.” The BBC explained that “the group’s message had been carefully crafted and included a propaganda video about attacks on strategic sites it said it had carried out inside Iran.”

The group’s name is also similar to those of Iranian cyber groups, “such as Persian Cat, or Charming Kitten – teams of hackers believed to be part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Cyber Army,” noted the BBC, adding, “It is possible that the Homeland Cheetahs were born to confront the Persian Cat.”

Whether this dissident group is an elaborate ruse, or the real deal, expect more attacks and incidents inside Iran, as opposition to Iran’s terror sponsoring regime grows, and it struggles to contain it.

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Paul Crespo is the Managing Editor of American Defense News. A defense and national security expert, he served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. Paul holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. He is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and President of the Center for American Defense Studies, a national security think tank.

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