Gantz on Iran blasts: ‘Not every event that happens there is connected to us’

Defense minister says Israel will do everything to prevent Tehran from going nuclear, but won’t comment on specific cases

Image from a video said to show a fire caused by an explosion at a power plant in Ahvaz, Iran, on July 4, 2020. (Screenshot/Twitter)
Image from a video said to show a fire caused by an explosion at a power plant in Ahvaz, Iran, on July 4, 2020. (Screenshot/Twitter)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Sunday responded to a series of mysterious blasts in Iran, saying that not everything that happened there could be blamed on Israel.

“Everyone can be suspicious of us all the time,” Gantz said. “But not every event that happens in Iran is connected to us.

“A nuclear Iran is a threat to the world and the region, as well as a threat to Israel. And we will do everything to prevent that from happening. And we will do everything possible to prevent Iran from spreading terror and weapons, but I do not refer to any individual event,” he said.

An Israeli TV report Friday night said that Israel was bracing for a possible Iranian retaliation as officials in Tehran suggested that a mystery fire and explosion at the Natanz nuclear facility the day before could have been caused by an Israeli reprisal cyberattack to an April cyberattack attributed by Western intelligence officials to Iran, in which an attempt was made to increase chlorine levels in water flowing to residential Israeli areas.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The explosion reportedly “destroyed” a laboratory where Iran was developing advanced centrifuges for faster uranium enrichment, with a Kuwaiti report quoting an unnamed source assessing that the strike set back the Iranian nuclear program by two months.

Then on Saturday, an explosion reportedly damaged a power plant in Iran.

Persian and Arabic media reported the explosion and fire at the Zargan power plant in Ahvaz in Iran’s southwest, near the Persian Gulf and the Iraqi border.

Iran’s IRNA news agency later reported that the fire at the plant had been brought under control. It said the blaze was ignited when a transformer exploded.

A few hours later on Saturday, IRNA said a chlorine gas leak at a petrochemical center in southeast Iran sickened 70 workers. Most of the workers at the Karun petrochemical center in the city of Mahshahr in southeast Khuzestan province were released after undergoing medical treatment.

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 Tehran, Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

The previous week a large blast was felt in Tehran, apparently caused by an explosion at the Parchin military complex, which defense analysts believe holds an underground tunnel system and missile production facilities.

The Fars news agency, which is close to the country’s ultra-conservatives, initially reported that the Parchin blast was caused by “an industrial gas tank explosion” near a facility belonging to the defense ministry. It cited an “informed source” in saying the site of the incident was not related to the military.

However, this was largely disputed by defense analysts as satellite photographs of the Parchin complex emerged showing large amounts of damage at the site.

The satellite photos of the area, some 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) east of downtown Tehran, showed hundreds of meters of charred scrubland not seen in images of the area taken in the weeks ahead of the incident. The building near the char marks resembled the facility seen in the state TV footage.

This photo combo from the European Commission’s Sentinel-2 satellite shows the site of an explosion, before, left, and after, right, that rattled Iran’s capital, on June 26, 2020. The explosion appears to have charred hundreds of meters of scrubland. (European Commission via AP)

The explosion appeared to have struck a facility for the Shahid Bakeri Industrial Group, which makes solid-propellant rockets, said Fabian Hinz, a research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

Iran long has denied seeking nuclear weapons, though the IAEA previously said Iran had done work in “support of a possible military dimension to its nuclear program” that largely halted in late 2003.

Western concerns over the Iranian atomic program led to sanctions and eventually to Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The US under President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in May 2018, leading to a series of escalating attacks between Iran and the US, and to Tehran abandoning the deal’s production limits.

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