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Iran Crisis - July 2020 - Mysterious Explosions

At least five mysterious explosions occured in Iran over two weeks in late June and early July 2020, including one at a missile factory and another – the most significant – at the Natanz nuclear facility. After the series of mysterious attacks, the Iranians admitted that the fire at Natanz last week caused serious damage and set the country’s nuclear program back by months. This was not just an accident or a gas leak, as the Iranians had said about the other incidents. Gholamreza Jalali, the head of Iran's civilian defence, told state television that Tehran would retaliate against any country that carries out cyberattacks on its nuclear sites.

  1. On June 26, an explosion occurred east of Tehran near the Parchin military and weapons development base that authorities said was caused by a leak at a gas storage facility in an area outside the base. The explosion took place at an Iranian gas storage facility in an area which houses a sensitive military site near the capital, Tehran, according to a defence ministry spokesperson. Iran's defence ministry spokesperson Davoud Abdi told state TV on Friday the blast happened at a gas storage facility in a "public area" of Parchin.
  2. At least 19 people were killed in an explosion 30 June 2020 at a medical clinic in the north of Tehran, which an official said was caused by a gas leak.
  3. On 02 July 2020 a fire broke out after an explosion at a ground-level building at Iran's underground Natanz facility, the centrepiece of Iran's uranium enrichment program, which the authorities said caused significant damage. The Natanz explosion is considered the most significant of six explosions that have occurred in Iran since late June, shaking the regime’s confidence. Tehran has not responded and it is unclear if it has a solid lead on who caused the explosions, or if some of the explosions may have been caused by outdated infrastructure.
  4. A fire broke out at a power station in southwest Iran on 04 July 2020, the latest of several blazes and explosions to hit sensitive sites. The blaze, which affected a transformer in the power station in the city of Ahvaz, was put out by firefighters and electricity was restored after partial outages, Mostafa Rajabi Mashhadi, a spokesman for state-run power company TAVANIR, told the semi-official news agency Tasnim.
  5. Two people were killed in an explosion at a factory south of Tehran on 07 July 2020, the latest in a series of fires and explosions, some of which have hit sensitive sites. State news agency IRNA reported "human error" was the cause of the blast. "Two people were killed and three others were injured," said local official Amin Babai, adding the explosion happened in "an industrial zone" at Baqershahr, 23km (14 miles) from the capital. "The explosion that was caused by some workers' negligent handling of oxygen tanks ... was so powerful that the walls of a factory nearby were also totally destroyed," Babai was quoted as saying.
  6. Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation denied "false allegations by counter-revolutionary elements in the media of an explosion" at another nuclear plant in Ardakan, about 450km southeast of Tehran. "Nothing happened" at the yellow-cake production plant, it said in a statement. The rumours are aimed at creating "despair" and supporting the campaign of "maximum pressure of the Great Satan [the United States]" against Iran, the atomic energy agency said.
  7. On Sunday 12 July 2020, the semi-official Fars news agency reported a fire at a petrochemical facility in southwest Iran due to a hot oil leak.
  8. Also on Sunday 12 July 2020, an electrical substation caught fire in the Iranian capital Tehran, the official IRNA news agency reported.
  9. An explosion at a liquified natural gas company in northeast Iran caused extensive damage on 13 July 2020, state media reported. A gas condensate storage tank at the Petronaft company in the Kavian Fariman industrial complex caught fire causing the explosion, Javad Jahandoost, the head of the complex’s fire department, said.
  10. At least three ships were on fire 15 July 2020 at an industrial ship plant in Iran's southern city of Bushehr, according to the official IRNA news agency. The Tasnim agency said the number of ships that caught fire was seven. No injuries had been reported. The cause of the fire was still unknown.

After the series of mysterious attacks, the Iranians admitted that the fire at Natanz caused serious damage and set the country’s nuclear program back by months. This was not just an accident or a gas leak, as the Iranians had said about the other incidents. An article by IRNA last week addressed what it called the possibility of sabotage by enemies such as Israel and the United States, although it stopped short of accusing either directly. In 2010, the Stuxnet computer virus, widely believed to have been developed by the US and Israel, was discovered after it was used to attack Natanz. Israel's defence minister said on Sunday it was not "necessarily" behind every mysterious incident in Iran.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) – firmly in control all of Iran’s main power centers – threatened to respond fiercely to US President Donald Trump and his attempts at extending the arms embargo against Iran in October. The IRGC believes the US would do all in its power from now until the November presidential elections to force Iran out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and make good on its plan to use the snap-back mechanism to re-impose all previous sanctions on Iran.

Iran's state-run news agency reported that several passengers on board a civilian airplane were injured on 23 July 2020 after two fighter jets approached the aircraft over Syrian airspace. The flight operated by Iranian airline Mahan Air was on its way from Tehran to Beirut, in Lebanon. The report said the passengers were injured after the pilot quickly changed altitude to avoid collision with the fighter jets. Video reportedly shot inside the plane showed people lying on the floor. What appears to be a fighter jet is visible from the window. The injured passengers were taken to hospital after their flight landed in Beirut.

Iran's news agency says the fighter jets could have been Israeli or American. An Israeli military spokesperson said that Israeli forces were not involved in the incident. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi told the agency that the incident is under investigation, and that necessary legal and political action will be taken. State-run media in Syria quote aviation authorities as saying the incident occurred over al-Tanf, in the south of the country, where a US military base is located. They say the incident was apparently caused by jets belonging to the US-led coalition.

"All passengers on Mahan Air Flight 1152, Iranians and non-Iranian, can sue the terrorist US military - commanders, perpetrators, supervisors and deputies - in Iranian courts for moral and physical damages," Ali Bagheri-Kani, head of the judiciary's human rights office, was quoted as saying by the semi-official ILNA news agency. He said complainants could also take an international legal route through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United Nations agency that oversees international civil aviation agreements.

The US military said its F-15 was at a safe distance and the fighter was conducting a visual inspection of the airliner as it passed near the Tanf garrison in Syria, home to US forces.

Iranian envoy to the UN Majid Takht-Ravanchi asked for UN’s serious reaction toward two American warplanes’ harassment of his country’s passenger plane last month, and emphasized that Tehran would pursue the issue via relevant global bodies. “It is incumbent upon the United Nations to reject such an unlawful and yet adventurist act and hold the United States accountable for this irresponsible behavior,” Takht- Ravanchi wrote in two letters sent to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and the Security Council on 07 August 2020.

He complained that Flight No. 1152 of Mahan Air, bound from Tehran to Beirut, “was aggressively and unexpectedly intercepted” by two American fighter jets on July 23 in Syrian airspace. The envoy voiced Iran’s “strongest objections against this violation of international law” and emphasized the issue would be seriously followed up by the country through relevant international bodies. Due to the US warplanes’ “offensive and hazardous maneuvering” and in order to save the passengers’ lives, the pilot had to instantly reduce altitude causing injuries to those onboard, the envoy added.

Iranian Vice President for Legal Affairs Laya Joneidi also said disturbing a passenger plane is equal to the violation of indispensable international rules and regulations. Causing of disturbance for a passenger plane amounts to violation of the inalienable principles of international rules, Joneidi wrote in a note on July 24. “The behavior of the fighter jets against Flight No. 1152 of Mahan Air and creating trouble for the passenger plane, and that in a third country’s soil [airspace], is in flagrant violation of aviation security and infringing the principle of freedom of flight for civil planes,” she said, and noted, “Furthermore, it is in contrast to article 3 and article 44 of Chicago Convention, the relevant appendices and Montreal 1971 Convention."




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