Iran denies latest blast reports and accuses west of disinformation


Tehran says incident in early hours in garrison town of Gamdareh was a power outage

Patrick Wintour and Oliver Holmes –  The  Guardian

A satellite image showing a damaged building at Iran’s Natanz nuclear site. The Iranian foreign ministry rejected claims that it was the work of Israel. Photograph: AP

Iran has denied reports that fresh mysterious explosions have rocked two towns close to Tehran, accusing the west of waging psychological warfare by spreading false messages on social media.

Reports suggested that the blasts had occurred in the early hours of Friday in Gamdareh, a residential town that houses a number of military garrisons, including bases of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and in Shahr-e Qods. Officials insisted the reports were false but accepted there had been a power outage.

Iran has acknowledged there have been a number of explosions over the past three weeks at key sites including nuclear facilities and oil refineries, but it has not yet conceded that the incidents could be deliberate attacks.

The series of incidents at sensitive locations, the most high-profile being a fire at the Natanz nuclear site, have led to speculation that Israel may have launched a covert sabotage campaign.

Rejecting claims that there had been a fresh attack on Friday, Iranian news agencies quoted Leila Vaseghi, the governor of Shahr-e Qods, a town west of Tehran, as denying an explosion had taken place and saying only that there had been a power outage. She said: “The power outage also occurred in a limited area for five or six minutes, and power outages did not occur extensively.”

Rumours of the latest incident began circulating online at about midnight on Thursday, according to reports by the state-run Irib news agency. Locals reported hearing three or four mortar-like sounds similar to anti-aircraft weapons, government-run news agencies said.

A small number of social media accounts claiming to be from Garmdareh reported hearing sounds, but the images posted of a giant fire and damaged buildings were found to be old.

The Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, also dampened speculation about the cause of a recent incident in Natanz nuclear site, rejecting claims that it was the work of Israel. “It is still too early to make any judgment on the main cause of the blast [in Natanz], and relevant security bodies are probing into every detail of the incident,” Mousavi said on Friday.

If Iran concludes that foreign elements were involved, it will be announced and there would be repercussions, he added.

Speaking on Saturday, Israel’s foreign minister, Gabi Ashkenazi, said his government’s long-term policy was not to allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. “It is better not to mention our actions in Iran,” he said.

In an effort to avoid prompting retaliation, Israel rarely acknowledges attacks on foreign soil. However, it has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in neighbouring Syria, including on Iranian forces stationed there that Israel sees as a threat.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, has also previously lauded what he said were intelligence operations that acquired tens of thousands of documents on Iran’s nuclear ambitions from a warehouse in Tehran.

Following the Natanz incident, Iran’s government spokesman, Ali Rabiei, said Iran’s nuclear activities, which he insisted were peaceful, could not be stopped “despite the hostilities of enemies”.

“The Israeli regime should be aware that creating of norm-breaking narrative on any attack against our nuclear facilities, even if it only propaganda, is considered as stepping in the path of violating redlines of global peace and security,” Rabiei said on Tuesday, according to Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency.

Israel and Iran have also accused each other of launching cyber-attacks in recent years.

Ronen Bergman, a senior political and military analyst for Israel’s top-selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, wrote this week that if the country was responsible for what happened in Natanz, it would qualify “as a new stage in the secret war that isn’t quite so secret any more”.

He added: “The objectives, presumably, were to make it clear to Iran that Israel would not allow it to move forward with its nuclear programme, and to delay that plan by several months.”


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