In the early morning of 26 June 2020, a huge explosion occurred close to the military base in Parchin. According to the Defense Ministry spokesman Davoud Abdi, it was due to “a gas leak” at a “gas storage facility” near the base.
In news that was released the next day by the Associated Press, Sentinel-2 satellite images show signs of a vast blackened area in the hills located next to the ammunitions facility and the cruise missile factory at Khojir missile base, which is evidence of an explosion and fire that lit up the night sky in Tehran.
Credit…@2_ordu, via Twitter
So, what do we know? Very little indeed, but it definitely looks like a cruise missile carrying a nuclear warhead destroyed something, probably an underground facility. I consulted VT’s exert on all things nuclear, Jeff Smith and he concurred that a nuclear warhead on a cruise missile was the likely scenario.
Who did it? The obvious culprits are the US and Israel.
From the New York Times:
Many Iranians on social media also cast doubt on the government’s account of Friday’s explosion. Trust between the Iranian public and the government has eroded in the past few months as a series of crises, from protests to the shooting down of a Ukrainian Airlines airliner and the coronavirus pandemic, have taken a toll after the public demanded answers and the government failed to be transparent.
“Chernobyl series part one,” tweeted Morteza Seydabadi. “Gas explosion near a military base? Do you think we are stupid?”
Suspicion in Iran will almost certainly fall on Israel, which has carried out attacks on Iranian targets in the region and cyberattacks within the country itself. A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office would not comment on Friday, in keeping with Israeli policy to neither confirm nor deny whether it has carried out an attack.
According to two Israeli sources who spoke on a condition of anonymity when discussing sensitive national security issues, Israeli intelligence is investigating the matter, and both said that the blast was not an Israeli operation.
If this is correct, then the finger of blame must be pointed at the US. But why? Perhaps the answer lies in the first paragraph from the NFT:
“Trust between the Iranian public and the government has eroded in the past few months as a series of crises, from protests to the shooting down of a Ukrainian Airlines airliner and the coronavirus pandemic, have taken a toll after the public demanded answers and the government failed to be transparent.“
Exploding a nuclear weapon on a hillside just outside Tehran, where the entire population of the capital city was able to clearly see it is definitely going to put more pressure on the Iranian government to be more transparent. However, do not expect Iran to admit that it was attacked as it would be tacitly admitting that Tehran itself is vulnerable to a nuclear strike.
IRAN – Strong and large orange-color light east of Tehran. June 26, 2020
A massive explosion at a sensitive military area near the Iranian capital city Tehran triggered a series of speculations of a possible air attack.
Social media users circulated images of the explosion at around 00:30 a.m. local time on Friday (08:00 p.m. GMT on Thursday).
Multiple video clips on Iranian social media showed a strong and large orange light, similar to an explosion appearing east of Tehran.
Some residents said they heard a loud sound.
The explosion occurred at the village of Parchin, the site of an Iranian military complex with the same name, located about 30 kilometers (19 miles) southeast of Tehran.
In July 2015, western sources claimed that there was activity in the military complex associated with nuclear weapons. Tehran immediately denied the allegation.
However, the Director-General of the Defense Ministry’s Public Relations Office, Second Brigadier General Davoud Abdi, told the Islamic Republic’s official news agency (IRNA) that the explosion at Parchin’ “public area” was the result of a natural gas tank blast.
By saying “public area”, Abdi effectively ruled out any military facility as the site of the explosion.
“Fortunately, the explosion did not cause any casualties,” Abdi added, noting that the firefighters managed to control the blaze resulting from the explosion.
“Our colleagues have reached the area to examine the incident closely,” Abdi said, adding that relevant authorities would duly announce further information about the explosion.
Nonetheless, Abdi stopped short of referring to the cause of the explosion.
The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) news agency also attributed the blast to an explosion at a natural gas storage in Parchin, insisting that it occurred at a non-residential area.
According to several reports in state and semi-official media – citing both Abdi and the public relations manager of Tehran emergency, Mir Shahabuddin Ghavami – no emergency services or ambulances were requested in the area following the blast, Reuters reported.
Iranian authorities do not quickly and accurately report security-related incidents and an accurate picture might not emerge for a while.
On June 25, Tehran residents were treated to an unusual sight, a bright orange light in the nighttime sky over Eastern Tehran. Iranian officials soon claimed that what had happened was a mere explosion of industrial gas tanks in the general area of Parchin, the site of Iran’s vast explosives, rocket, and ammunition manufacturing complex. Yet a closer examination of videos posted on social media seemed to suggest that the blast took place in the Khojir region of Tehran, something finally confirmed by satellite pictures a day later.
While Parchin has gained notoriety for its role in Iran’s pre-2003 nuclear weapons program, Khojir has generally escaped public scrutiny despite being the single most important site associated with Iran’s ballistic missile program. The vast area nestled in between the mountains of East Tehran houses various entities of the Aerospace Industries Organization, itself subordinate to Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL).
The two largest of these are the Shahid Bakeri Industrial Group (SBIG) responsible for the production of Iran’s solid-propellant missiles and the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group (SHIG) producing Iran’s liquid-fuel ballistic missiles. Both groups, in turn, entail a myriad of sub-companies in Khojir as well as other parts of the country dedicated to the various tasks of missile production.
This institutional setup is reflected in the facilities present at Khojir. Satellite pictures show areas associated with the production of solid-propellant and liquid propellant as well as test stands for liquid propellant engines and solid-propellant rocket motors. Khojir also houses a number of underground facilities whose exact purpose remains unclear.
So how exactly does the explosion fit into this picture? Satellite images and a short video released by Iranian TV show the exact location of the blast at a small facility consisting of two buildings and two roofed support structures within its own security perimeter. The exact purpose of this facility is unclear, however large numbers of discarded blue industrial plastic drums visible in satellite pictures indicate some sort of chemical production or treatment taking place in the area.
The facility adjacent to the site of the explosion shows all the telltale signatures of solid-propellant production, like earthen berms to shield buildings against accidental explosions, buildings of odd shapes and geometry housing chemical production equipment and a pit to burn hazardous fuel residue. Thus, it seems likely that the site of the explosion is functionally related to one of SBIG’s solid propellant production sites. While higher-resolution imagery of the site has yet to be released, it seems that damage to the overall facility is relatively limited.
Right at the epicenter of the explosion, there are two roofed structures similar to the destroyed one seen in Iranian TV footage of the site. Storage tanks as well as a parked tanker truck are visible in historical satellite imagery of both structures. Thus, an explosion of a liquid or gas storage site seems like the most likely explanation. While this corroborates Iranian statements to some degree, it remains unknown exactly what gas or liquid was stored there and contrary to Iranian statements, the storage area was indeed related to a military site.
It is not clear why Iranian officials decided to name Parchin as the site of the explosion instead of the actual site located almost 20km away from the Parchin complex. One reason could be a reluctance to talk about the complex for reasons of operational secrecy. While Parchin has been officially mentioned in Iranian media and was the subject of a highly publicized visit by Iran’s Supreme Leader in 1998, Iranian officials have barely acknowledged Khojir.
As is the case with many spectacular explosions in the Middle East, the question of whether the incident in Khojir was caused by an accident or sabotage is high on everybody’s mind. Unfortunately, it is also extremely difficult to answer. Iran has a history of foreign sabotage against its sensitive installations, ranging from cyber attacks on its nuclear facilities to the injection of faulty components into its missile supply chain.
Yet, Iran also has a history of military accidents with the shootdown of Ukraine flight 752 and the accidental targeting of the Konarak vessel being only the most recent examples. How Iran’s disastrous financial situation has affected routine maintenance and safety precautions is up to anyone’s guess. The 2011 explosion in Bidganeh offers a cautionary tale in how difficult it can be to establish the cause of an explosion.
Much more devastating than this week’s incident in Khojir, the blast wiped out Iran’s solid-propellant development site in Bidganeh and killed the father of Iran’s missile program, Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam and dozens of his coworkers. Yet, almost a decade after its occurrence, it still has not been established whether the explosion was an accident or sabotage, with Iranian officials themselves sending mixed signals. Therefore, like so many incidents involving Iran’s military infrastructure, the real cause of the Khojir explosion might never become known.
Regional media is now speculating that something worse may have happened when a massive explosion caused light in the skies over Iran last week.
Iran may have been up to more than it claims after mysterious explosions ripped apart an area near secretive missile factories in the hills east of Tehran.
The images have identified a burned area in the hills near the Khojir Missile Production Complex.
Regional media is now speculating that something worse may have happened when a massive explosion lit up the skies over Iran last week. Initially theories pointed to Parchin as the location of the explosion. Iranian media claimed it was a gas leak at a storage facility.
“While Parchin has gained notoriety for its role in Iran’s pre-2003 nuclear weapons program, Khojir has generally escaped public scrutiny despite being the single most important site associated with Iran’s ballistic missile program. The vast area nestled https://t.co/lAqccHPMeQ— Alireza Nader علیرضا نادر (@AlirezaNader) June 27, 2020
But what really happened?
Al-Ain media in the Gulf speculates on numerous holes in Iran’s official story.
Images show a burned field. It may have been an “external cyberattack aimed at sabotaging the facilities.”
The attack is noteworthy, Al-Ain says, because it is not the first of its kind. This reveals details about a previous mysterious explosion at a military barracks that killed a co-founder of the Iranian missile program of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in 2011.
The article claims that this area is home to a wide variety of explosives, missiles and military equipment. Analysts, however, have not studied the clips of what happened.
Al-Ain says that this reveals that the Khojir area is of great importance but has been overlooked due to a focus on the nuclear program and Parchin.
Khojir plays a key role in Iran’s ballistic missile program. The mountainous region, near a nice national park that belongs to the state, is festooned with Iranian Ministry of Defense posts linked Iran’s Space Industries Organization.
The Shahid Bagheri Industrial Group and Shahid Hemat Industrial Group are linked to this organization as subsidiaries. The first of these groups builds the solid fuel for the rockets that Iran uses and the second makes the liquid fuel for Iran’s ballistic missiles, the report claims.
The Khojir area has other unknown facilities.
“It is not known at the present time the nature of these military installations,” the article stated.
However, many kinds of chemical production can be seen from space, including blue plastic industrial barrels on satellite images. The analyst argues that the area run by Shahid Bagheri Group is where the explosion happened.
Why did Iran then claim that the explosion happened in Parchin, 20 kilometers away?
Mysteries abound, it is likely, Al-Ain’s report claims, that this was to distract from the secretive nature of Khojir. Shahid Bagheri Group has been alleged to work on the solid fuel aspect of the Fajr rockets Iran uses.
Khojir has been named previously in a US Congressional report in 2008.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran claimed that Khojir was an Iranian Defense Ministry secret facility code named B1-Nori-8500 “engaged in the development of nuclear warheads for intermediate range ballistic missiles.”
Secretly US diplomatic reports leaked years ago revealed that in 2007 Iran and North Korea were working on ballistic missile technology in unison and it was believed that Shahid Bagheri Industrial Group “is the probably end user” of parts linked to missiles.
Concerns were raised in 2007 that Bank Sepah of Iran, which had been designated by the US for supporting Iran’s Aerospace Industries Organization, was seeking to open a branch in Baghdad. These Iranian groups also tried to procure “dual-use” trucks from Germany, according to a 2008 report.
The reports show that the Khojir area needs more focus.
His studies in history and background in the media industry have given him a keen insight into the use of mass media as a creator of conflict in the modern world.
His favored areas of study include state-sponsored terrorism, media manufactured reality and the role of intelligence services in manipulation of populations and the perception of events.