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Speculation of Sabotage Mounts as Unexplained Fires, Explosions Continue to Shake Iran

This photo released Thursday, July 2, 2020, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows a building after it was damaged by a fire, at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran.
This photo released Thursday, July 2, 2020, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows a building after it was damaged by a fire, at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran.

JERUSALEM, Israel – Large black clouds billowed above an Iranian shipyard in the port city of Bushehr in southeastern Iran on Wednesday after a fire erupted there. 

The Tasnim news agency reported that firefighters are struggling to contain the blaze at the Delvar Shipyard in Bushehr. At least seven ships have caught fire and authorities have not given any information about what could have started the blaze. 

Shortly before the incident occurred, a fire also broke out at an aluminum factory in Lamerd in southern Iran. The fire was started by an “oil leak” and caused “minor damage,” according to the Iranian Mehr News Agency.

These fires come just days after another large fire ignited on a United States warship in San Diego, causing substantial damage.

Esmail Ghaani, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, praised the navy fire as divine judgment and issued a veiled threat that the US and Israel will have difficult days ahead.

These events are unfolding against the backdrop of mysterious fires and explosions that have plagued sensitive sites in Iran in recent weeks, including nuclear facilities, oil plants, and factories.

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Iranian media reported an unexplained explosion at a gas plant in the Kavian Fariman industrial zone in eastern Iran’s Razavi Khorasan province on Monday. The incident is under investigation and there were no reported casualties.

The biggest explosion occurred on July 2 and destroyed a centrifuge assembly plant at Iran’s Natanz nuclear complex. The centrifuges there could enrich uranium at a faster rate than Iran’s older models. 

Iranian officials have downplayed the severity of these explosions and claimed they are accidents. However, many speculate that foul play is involved.

A Middle East intelligence official has told The New York Times that Israel was responsible for the Natanz blast and also cited a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps who said an explosive was used. The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida claims Israel hit Natanz with a cyberattack and then used F-35’s to attack Iran’s missile production complex. 

Israeli leaders have not claimed responsibility for any of these unexplained events. 

Andrea Stricker, a research fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, suggests Iran may be facing a sabotage campaign aimed at setting back its nuclear program.

She argues that now is the opportune time to target Iran’s nuclear program because of two reasons: the collapsing 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal and the upcoming US Presidential election.

“While Tehran has openly violated the JCPOA and refused access to UN inspectors, its enrichment capacity and stockpile of enriched uranium have not yet rebounded to pre-JCPOA limits,” she writes.

Iran may hesitate to take strong retaliatory actions against whoever could be responsible for the mysterious fires and explosions “since provocative actions may persuade the European parties to the JCPOA to ‘snap back’ UN sanctions lifted by the agreement,” says Stricker.

The presidential election in November may also close a window of opportunity for Jerusalem to strike Iran because a “Biden administration may be less tolerant of sabotage as it seeks to renew nuclear talks with Tehran with an eye toward reviving the JCPOA.”

Instead of retaliating with the military, she claims Iran may instead try to frustrate international nuclear inspectors by rebuilding its centrifuge assembly facility underground where it could be less vulnerable to detection and attack.

It remains unclear how Iran will respond to these recent events and whether or not Israel is responsible. It’s goal is to make sure Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon.

“Obviously Israel does not want there to be any conditions under which Iran would acquire a nuclear device or a system to deliver it because if you do have a nuclear bomb, you also need a rocket to deliver it somewhere. So, both of those would be I assume technologies that Iran must not possess, and Israel and the United States have been very clear on not having that happen,” Middle East expert Seth Frantzman told CBN News.

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