Israel was behind a Saturday night drone attack that struck a defense facility in the Iranian city of Isfahan, according to a Sunday report.
The Wall Street Journal cited US officials and people familiar with the matter to say Jerusalem directed the strike. The report could not be independently confirmed.
Israel’s Channel 12 news reported Sunday that the site was a weapons production facility for Iran’s killer Shahed-136 drones and that the attack drones in operation were launched from an area near the site by “highly-skilled” operators who knew their target well. The unsourced report said the attack incorporated high-quality intelligence and technological ability.
Iran has been selling Shahed-136 drones to Russia for its use in the nearly year-long war on Ukraine. The “kamikaze” drones have been deployed to attack Ukrainian civilian sites and critical infrastructure facilities since September.
Iran has claimed air defenses were able to intercept some of the attacking drones, while others caused only minor damage. Some news reports, including in Israeli media, indicated the damage was more severe. Video allegedly from the scene showed large blasts.
While official reports in Iran pointed to one blast resulting from the strike, opposition Iranian news outlet Iran International cited eyewitnesses as saying that they saw three or four explosions.
Today's attacks on an ammunition depot in the #Iranian city of Isfahan were "phenomenally successful," according to the #Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post, according to Western intelligence services.#Israel #Iran pic.twitter.com/SKIxtEwIw8
— Feher_Junior (@Feher_Junior) January 29, 2023
The adjacent Space Research Center was sanctioned by the United States for developing the country’s ballistic-missile program, the report said.
The WSJ report noted the timing of the reported strike, coming at the same time that talks between Jerusalem and Washington are aimed at finding new ways to counter Tehran’s nuclear program.
Iran condemned the attack, calling it “cowardly,” and accused Iran’s enemies of trying to sow insecurity in the Islamic Republic.
“This cowardly act was carried out today as part of the efforts made by enemies of the Iranian nation in recent months to make the Islamic Republic insecure,” Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said Sunday at a press conference with his visiting Qatari counterpart, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani.
“Such measures cannot affect the will and intention of our specialists for peaceful nuclear developments,” he added.
The Biden administration has also signaled that it had abandoned the possibility of reviving a deal with Iran over its nuclear program, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which then-US president Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018. Trump then instituted a “maximum pressure” sanctions regime, targeting various Iranian sectors, leading Tehran to respond by expanding its nuclear program in violation of the JCPOA.
Iran’s cooperation with Russia in the latter’s invasion of Ukraine and the anti-regime protests that have swept Iran since mid-September and have led Tehran to respond with a violent crackdown on protesters have also played a role in Washington’s more assertive approach.
Last week, Israel and the US kicked off a large-scale joint exercise in Israel and over the eastern Mediterranean Sea, reportedly aimed at showing adversaries, such as Iran, that Washington is not too distracted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and threats from China to mobilize a large military force.
Netanyahu, who during his last term as premier ordered numerous strikes on Iranian targets in Syria and operations on Iranian soil, has been open about his intention to oppose Tehran’s nuclear aspirations at any cost, as Israel generally considers an Iranian nuclear bomb as a near existential threat.
In November, a longtime ally of Netanyahu said in an interview that he believed the prime minister would order a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities if the US does not secure a new nuclear deal with Tehran and fails to take action itself in the near future.