Richard Spencer – The Times July 6, 2020
Suspicions that Iran is the victim of an international sabotage operation have intensified after a fire at a power station, the third incident in nine days.
The fire broke out on Saturday in the transformer of an electricity plant in the city of Ahvaz, in the west of the country. It was quickly brought under control, with no significant injuries.
That was also the case with an explosion at a missile factory at Khojir near Tehran last week and an explosion and fire at the country’s main uranium enrichment facility at Natanz early on Thursday.
In the past week there have also been 19 deaths in an oxygen tank explosion at a hospital in Tehran and a chlorine gas leak from a chemical plant near the Gulf coast.
Late on Sunday a spokesman for Iran’s atomic energy organisation said the blast at Natanz had caused significant damage.
“The incident could slow down the development and production of advanced centrifuges in the medium term,” Behrouz Kamalvandi said.
“Iran will replace the damaged building with a bigger one that has more advanced equipment.”
The incidents have prompted speculation in Iranian media and Israel, where the liberal Haaretz newspaper suggested that the Natanz blast was a “direct hit on Iran’s nuclear program”.
The explosion was accompanied by a warning sent to the BBC’s Persian language service before news of the blast became public.
A group of dissidents in the military, the Homeland Cheetahs, claimed responsibility.
The idea of internal sabotage would fit a claim by a Middle East intelligence official to The New York Times that an explosive device caused the damage.
Security analysts say that the Natanz warehouse was being developed as a unit for centrifuges, used to refine uranium to higher levels for civilian and military purposes. Iran has begun enriching to levels beyond those set by the 2015 nuclear deal since Donald Trump pulled the US out.
The Natanz explosion came almost 10 years after a cyberattack on the plant in which computer malware caused the centrifuges to break down.
The sophisticated operation has long been attributed to the CIA and its Israeli counterpart, Mossad.
The Ahvaz explosion hints at another culprit: Saudi Arabia. Ahvaz and the surrounding Khuzestan province are home to an ethnic Arab and Sunni Muslim minority and several terrorist attacks there have been carried out by the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz.
The latest incident coincides with an announcement from the navy chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on Sunday that Tehran had built underground “missile cities” along the Gulf coastline.
He warned of a “nightmare for Iran’s enemies”.