Dubai, United Arab Emirates — Bomb-carrying drones targeted an Iranian defense factory in the central city of Isfahan overnight, authorities said on Sunday morning, causing damage to the factory amid heightened regional and international tensions engulfing the Islamic Republic .
Iran’s Defense Ministry has not provided any information on the suspected perpetrators of the attack, which came as a refinery fire broke out separately in the northwest of the country and an earthquake of magnitude 5.9 struck nearby, killing three people.
However, Tehran has been the target of suspected Israeli drone strikes amid a shadow war with its rival in the Middle East as its nuclear deal with world powers crumbles. Meanwhile, tensions also remain high with neighboring Azerbaijan after a gunman attacked that country’s embassy in Tehran, killing its security chief and injuring two others.
Details of the Isfahan bombing, which happened around 11:30 p.m. on Saturday, have remained scarce. A Department of Defense statement described three drones launched at the facility, two of which were successfully shot down. A third apparently managed to crash into the building, causing “minor damage” to its roof and injuring no one, the ministry said.
The English-language branch of Iran’s state television, Press TV, released a cellphone video apparently showing the moment a drone struck along the busy Imam Khomeini Highway which heads northwest from from Isfahan, one of many ways for drivers to reach the holy city of Qom and Tehran, capital of Iran. A small crowd stood gathered, drawn by anti-aircraft fire, watching an explosion and sparks hit a dark building.
“Oh my God! It was a drone, wasn’t it?” shouts the man filming. “Yes, it was a drone.”
Those who were there fled after the strike.
These footage of the strike, along with footage of the aftermath analyzed by The Associated Press, matched a site on Minoo Street in northwest Isfahan, near a shopping mall that included a carpet and a store of electronics.
Iran’s defense and nuclear sites increasingly find themselves surrounded by commercial properties and residential neighborhoods as the country’s cities expand ever further outwards. Some places also remain incredibly opaque about what they produce, with only a sign bearing the logo of the Ministry of Defense or the paramilitary Revolutionary Guards.
The Ministry of Defense only referred to the site as a “workshop”, without giving details of what it did. Isfahan, some 350 kilometers (215 miles) south of Tehran, is home to both a large air base built for its fleet of F-14 fighter jets and its center for nuclear fuel research and production.
The attack comes after Iran’s Intelligence Ministry claimed in July that it had dismantled a plot to target sensitive sites around Isfahan. A segment aired on Iranian state television in October included alleged confessions by alleged members of Komala, a Kurdish opposition party exiled from Iran and now living in Iraq, that they planned to target a military aerospace facility in Isfahan after being trained by the Israeli Mossad. information service.
Activists say Iranian state television has aired hundreds of coerced confessions over the past decade. Israeli officials declined to comment on the attack.
Separately, Iranian state television said a fire broke out at an oil refinery in an industrial zone near the northwest city of Tabriz. He said the cause was not yet known, as he showed footage of firefighters trying to put out the blaze. Tabriz lies about 520 kilometers (325 miles) northwest of Tehran.
State television also said the 5.9 magnitude earthquake killed three people and injured 816 others in rural areas of West Azerbaijan province, damaging buildings in many villages.
Iran’s theocratic government faces challenges both at home and abroad as its nuclear program rapidly enriches uranium closer to weapons-grade levels than ever since the collapse of its atomic deal with the US. world powers.
Nationwide protests have rocked the country since the September death of Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish-Iranian woman in the custody of the country’s vice police. Its currency, the rial, fell to new lows against the US dollar. Meanwhile, Iran continues to arm Russia with the bomb-carrying drone that Moscow uses in attacks in Ukraine against power plants and civilian targets.
Israel is believed to have launched a series of attacks against Iran, including an April 2021 assault on its underground Natanz nuclear facility that damaged its centrifuges. In 2020, Iran blamed Israel for a sophisticated attack that killed its top military nuclear scientist.
Israeli officials rarely acknowledge operations carried out by the country’s secret military units or its Mossad intelligence agency. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who recently returned to the premiership, has long viewed Iran as the biggest threat facing his country. The United States and Israel also just held their largest-ever military exercise amid tensions with Iran.
Meanwhile, tensions remain high between Azerbaijan and Iran as Azerbaijan and Armenia squabble over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Iran also wants to maintain its 44 kilometer (27 mile) border with landlocked Armenia – something that could be threatened if Azerbaijan seizes new territory through war.
Iran launched a military exercise near the Azerbaijani border in October. Azerbaijan also has close ties with Israel, which has infuriated Iranian extremists and purchased Israeli-made drones for its army.
Anwar Gargash, a senior Emirati diplomat, warned online that the Isfahan attack represented one more event in “the dangerous escalation the region is witnessing”. Last year, the United Arab Emirates was the target of missile and drone attacks claimed by Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
This “is not in the interest of the region and its future,” Gargash wrote on Twitter. “Although the problems in the region are complex, there is no alternative to dialogue.”
Associated Press writer Joseph Krauss contributed to this report.