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Suicide drones launched from inside Iran said to have hit Parchin military site

New York Times reports that Tehran views deadly incident as an attack, noting it fits pattern of alleged past Israeli strikes in Iran and Lebanon

2004 satellite image of the military complex at Parchin, Iran. (AP/DigitalGlobe-Institute for Science and International Security)
2004 satellite image of the military complex at Parchin, Iran. (AP/DigitalGlobe-Institute for Science and International Security)

A deadly explosion at Iran’s Parchin military complex on Wednesday was caused by quadcopter suicide drones, in an attack that fits a pattern of previous strikes that have been attributed to Israel, The New York Times reported Friday.

The report cited three Iranian sources along with a US official, who confirmed drones hit the site, but declined to say who was behind the attack. It said the drones exploded into a building being used for research on Iran’s drone development.

The blast killed a young engineer at the site and injured one other person.

The report noted that the strike fits a pattern of previous attacks that have been attributed to Israel, including previous strikes against Iran’s drone program.

Iranian sources told the Times that the drone attack was launched from inside Iran, not far from the Parchin military base — which the Islamic Republic uses to develop missile, nuclear and drone technology — noting that quadcopter drones have a short flight range, and Parchin is a long way from Iran’s borders.

While Iranian officials initially used the word “accident” to describe the explosion, the Defense Ministry in a later statement called it an “incident” and labeled the casualty a “martyr,” suggesting that Tehran is convinced it was an attack by a foreign entity.

On Thursday, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Hossein Salami said that the killing “will be responded to… Our enemies should wait,” without naming who they were.

This would not be the first time that a drone attack was launched from within Iran’s borders by operatives said to have been recruited by Israel.

An Iranian Shahed-136 drone is launched during a military exercise in Iran, December 2021. (Screen capture/Twitter)

Israel did not comment on the Wednesday incident, but it mirrored others that have taken place recently in Iran and Lebanon where Jerusalem has sought to target Tehran’s production and transfer of drone technology to proxies across the Middle East.

Last February, a reported Israeli UAV attack caused major damage to Iran’s drone fleet near the city of Kermanshah, prompting Iran to fire missiles at a site in Iraq that it claims was an Israeli intelligence base.

Last June, an alleged Israeli drone struck a facility in the city of Karaj that is used to assemble centrifuges for uranium enrichment at the Natanz and Fordow. The site is called the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company, or TESA.

A senior Israeli military official told the New York Times that the country has invested significant resources to detect and destroy such weapons, which pose a particular threat given that they can evade the IDF’s antimissile systems such as Iron Dome.

Iranian drones were used in attacks against Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Yemen and even a US base in Syria, intelligence officials told the Times.

Wednesday’s strike came days after gunmen took out an officer in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the middle of Tehran.

Israel has told US officials that it was behind the assassination and that it killed Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei in an effort to warn Tehran against the continued operation of an alleged covert unit he helped lead, an intelligence official told the Times.

Mourners gather around the coffin of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards colonel Sayyad Khodaei during a funeral procession at Imam Hussein square in the capital Tehran, on May 24, 2022. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Parchin, located south of Tehran, has been tied to Iran’s missile production work and nuclear research. It has been the site of a number of mysterious blasts in the past, which some have suggested were engineered by Iran’s foes.

The complex is alleged to have hosted past testing of conventional explosives that could be used to detonate a nuclear warhead, something Iran has repeatedly denied.

The site came under renewed scrutiny by the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2015 when Tehran reached a landmark deal with major powers under which it agreed to curb its nuclear activities under UN supervision in return for the lifting of international sanctions.

Iran had previously denied the IAEA access to Parchin, insisting it was a military site unrelated to any nuclear activities, but the agency’s then-chief, the late Yukiya Amano, paid a visit to the site.

Iran’s nuclear program has been the target of a campaign of sabotage, cyberattacks and assassinations of key scientists that it has blamed on Israel.

Other explosions and fires occurred in Parchin in 2014 and 2007.

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