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Blasts heard near Iran’s Bushehr nuclear site; officials cite air defense test

Anti-aircraft fire heard near plant; official say exercise carried out ‘with full preparation and coordination with the armed forces’

This October 26, 2010, photo shows the reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant just outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran. (AP Photo/Mehr News Agency, Majid Asgaripour)
This October 26, 2010, photo shows the reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant just outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran. (AP Photo/Mehr News Agency, Majid Asgaripour)

Anti-aircraft fire was reported Monday in the vicinity of a nuclear site in Bushehr, Iran, according to preliminary reports.

An Iranian official told the country’s semi-official Fars news agency that the anti-aircraft fire was to test air defenses at the site.

“This exercise took place at 5 a.m. local time (130 GMT) with full preparation and coordination with the armed forces,” Mohammadtaqi Irani told the agency, according to Reuters.

Numerous explosions have been reported over the past few years in complexes vital to Iran’s nuclear program and its energy and military sectors.

Some of the incidents have been said to stem from technical malfunctions as well as air defense tests, while others have been blamed by the Islamic Republic on its enemies, including the US and Israel.

Earlier this month, Iran said it carried out similar air defense tests near the Natanz site after explosions were heard in the vicinity.

In this August 20, 2010, photo, an Iranian security guard walks past a gate of the Bushehr nuclear power plant as its reactor building is seen in background, just outside the city of Bushehr 750 miles (1,245 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Initial reports had said a drone was shot down. Several media outlets including Nour News, a website linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, said the explosion was not an attack, but rather was caused by a missile as part of a test of air defenses’ response to a potential strike.

Israel has said it will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. Earlier this month, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said he notified US officials that he had instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for a strike against Iran.

A senior US official said earlier this month that Israeli and American military leaders are set to discuss possible military drills to practice destroying Iranian nuclear facilities in a potential worst-case scenario if nuclear talks fail.

Israel has reportedly approved a budget of some NIS 5 billion ($1.5 billion) to be used to prepare the military for a potential strike against Iran’s nuclear program. It includes funds for various types of aircraft, intelligence-gathering drones and unique armaments needed for such an attack, which would have to target heavily fortified underground sites.

In this photo released by the US Air Force, an Israeli Air Force F-15 Strike Eagle flies in formation with a US Air Force B-1B Lancer over Israel as part of a deterrence flight, on October 30, 2021. (US Air Force/Senior Airman Jerreht Harris via AP)

The reported anti-aircraft fire at Bushehr came days after Western powers reported some progress in talks to save the landmark Iran nuclear deal, though European diplomats warned that they were “rapidly reaching the end of the road.”

In a blow to European mediators, Iran requested a new pause in the talks in Vienna, which aim to bring the United States back into the 2015 agreement and roll back Iran’s nuclear activities. The Islamic Republic publicly stepped up its nuclear projects after the US withdrawal from the deal in 2018, under then-president Donald Trump.

The talks had just resumed in late November after a five-month break following the election of a new hardline government in Iran.

Underlying Western concerns are fears that Iran will soon have made enough progress that the accord — under which it was promised economic relief in return for drastic curbs on its nuclear work — will be obsolete.

The United States estimates the amount of time Iran needs to churn out enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb is now “very short,” a Biden administration official said Friday.

The official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, did not specify the exact length of time Iran needs to produce enough material for a nuclear weapon. Estimates have put the breakout time at several months.

“But it’s really short. It is unacceptably short,” the official was quoted as saying by Reuters.

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