Blasts, anti-air fire in Iran city with centrifuge factory said hit by Israel in 2021

State media claims incident part of drill at Revolutionary Guards base in Karaj, which hosts nuclear centrifuge assembly facility previously targeted in drone strike

Explosions seen in the Iranian city of Karaj on February 24 2023 (Screencapture/Twitter: Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Explosions seen in the Iranian city of Karaj on February 24 2023 (Screencapture/Twitter: Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A series of blasts, followed by anti-aircraft fire, was seen overnight Thursday-Friday in the Iranian city of Karaj, which has previously been targeted in a drone strike blamed on Israel.

Online videos showed explosions and anti-aircraft fire in the city, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of the Iranian capital, Tehran. Tracer rounds lit up the night sky, with the thud of blasts heard in the videos.

Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency later attributed the activity to an unannounced drill at a base for the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

In 2021, a suspected Israeli drone strike damaged a centrifuge assembly facility in Karaj.

Iran claimed to have foiled that attack, but Israeli media reported that the facility was damaged in the strike. Satellite images also indicated damage to the site.

The attack reportedly hit the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company, or TESA. The TESA factory was tasked with replacing damaged centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear site and also reportedly produces more advanced centrifuges that can more quickly enrich uranium.

While Iran maintained that the Karaj facility is used for civilian purposes, it has been subjected to United Nations, European Union and American sanctions since at least 2007 for being involved in Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The US lifted those sanctions under the 2015 nuclear deal, but then reimposed them in 2018 when then-US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord.

Last year Iran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency it had stopped production at Karaj and transferred work to another site.

The move responded to a “security concern” following the attack, with the new site “better protected,” a European diplomat said at the time.

The alleged Karaj centrifuge parts plant near Karaj, Iran, seen in a photo posted online by Google user Edward Majnoonian, in May 2019. (Screenshot/Google Maps)

The incident comes amid increasing concern in Israel over Iran’s nuclear program.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly held a series of secret high-level meetings with top military officials aimed at upping preparations for a possible confrontation with Iran.

According to a Channel 12 report on Tuesday, the premier huddled five times in recent weeks with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, Mossad head David Barnea, Military Intelligence chief Aharon Haliva and other military brass to discuss readying for a possible attack on Iran’s nuclear program.

The report, which was not attributed to any source, included few other details about the discussions, and may itself be designed to telegraph the seriousness of Israeli threats to resort to military action in order to shut down Iran’s suspected drive toward a nuclear weapon, which Netanyahu has described as an existential threat.

The report said the result of the meetings — that Israel will act alone if the international community does not step in — had been shared with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Israeli F-15 fighter jets escort an American B-52 bomber through Israeli airspace en route to the Persian Gulf on February 14, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Netanyahu on Tuesday night repeated his stance that the international community needed to back its promises to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions with serious threats to take military action or actually putting bombers in the air.

“The only thing that has ever stopped rogue nations from developing nuclear weapons is a credible military threat or a credible military action,” he told a national security conference. “A necessary condition and often a sufficient condition is credible military action. The longer you wait, the harder that becomes. We’ve waited very long.”

On Sunday, the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency said it was in talks with Iran after a report indicated that the country had begun enriching uranium to 84 percent — just a small step away from the 90% enrichment level required to create weapons-grade material.

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