Israel allegedly behind attack on Isfahan military facility, say top US officials

The attack comes shortly before Antony Blinken's visit to the Middle East. Iran will play a key role in his agenda, as will the new wave of violence between Israel and Palestine

PHOTO/ WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS  -   The Iranian authorities, who continue to investigate, have not yet accused any country of the bombing

In the early hours of Saturday morning, a drone attack was carried out against an Iranian Defence Ministry facility in the city of Isfahan. This military complex is a production centre for drones and missiles - many of which are sent to Iranian-friendly terrorist groups in the Middle East or to the Russian army during the war in Ukraine - as well as an ammunition depot. The Iranian authorities, who continue to investigate, have not yet accused any country of the bombing. In addition to the attack on the Isfahan facility, a fire broke out at an oil refinery in the city of Tabriz.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian has already spoken out, calling the attack "cowardly" and claiming that it was aimed at creating "insecurity" in the country. The head of Iranian diplomacy has also stressed that these events will not stop Iran's "peaceful nuclear work". 

Regarding this weekend's events, the Defence Ministry said the attack was carried out by three drones, two of which were shot down, according to Reuters. The third managed to hit the military facility, but caused only "minor damage" to the roof of the building. According to the ministry, the attack also caused no casualties.

However, Western intelligence sources acknowledged to The Jerusalem Post that the attack on the Iranian military facility that "develops advanced weapons" was "a great success", as evidenced by videos circulating on social media.

Although Tehran has not yet officially accused any country of being behind the attack, several senior US officials have indicated to media outlets such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Reuters that Israel was involved in the events. The news agency has also quoted an Iranian MP, Hossein Mirzaie, as saying that there is "strong speculation" about Israel's role in the bombing of the Isfahan complex.

This attack against Iranian facilities would be the first under the new government led by Benjamin Netanyahu and would add to the list of actions against Iran organised by the Hebrew state with the aim of hindering Tehran's nuclear programme, as well as reinforcing national security.

On several occasions, Iran has accused Israel of carrying out hostile acts against nuclear facilities, military or members of the security forces. Tehran has blamed Israeli agents for, for example, the power outage at the Natanz plant in 2021, as well as the 2020 assassination of scientist Mohsen Fajrizadeh, known as the father of Iran's nuclear programme. 

Following the death of Sayyad Kohadei, a Revolutionary Guard colonel shot outside his home last May, Tehran accused "sworn enemies" of the regime. According to The New York Times, Israel informed Washington of the assassination of Kohadei, the leader of an Iranian unit tasked with kidnapping and killing Israelis around the world, according to Jerusalem. 

WANA/MAJID ASGARIPOUR via REUTERS - Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian

US officials consulted by The New York Times have revealed that the attack was the work of the Mossad and responds to "Israel's concerns about its own security". The newspaper recalls that Esfahan is a major centre for the production, research and development of missiles, including medium-range Shabab missiles that can reach Israel. The city is also home to several nuclear research facilities. Therefore, according to sources, the attack would not be related to the export of Iranian drones to the Russian army during the war in Ukraine. 

The confrontation between Israel and Iran is being fought elsewhere in the Middle East where Tehran is militarily backing its affinity groups in Syria or Lebanon, such as Hezbollah. According to a report by an Israeli military analyst published in Walla News in 2021, Iran is reportedly supplying weapons to Hamas via Yemen and Sudan. In order to prevent Iranian weapons from reaching militias linked to Tehran, Israel has repeatedly attacked Damascus airport or the port of Latakia, claiming that the operations were aimed at destroying arms shipments from Iran.

PHOTO/RONEN ZVULUN via AP - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Bliken lands in the Middle East shortly after the attack on Isfahan

The US, for its part, has denied involvement in the attack through Pentagon spokesman Patrick Ryder. However, this development comes shortly after Israel and the US concluded joint military exercises in which, in addition to strengthening cooperation, they discussed ways to deal with threats from Iran.

The Wall Street Journal's sources stress that the attack following the military exercises could be aimed at "sending a message" to the regime in Tehran. The US newspaper also quotes Israel's new army chief, Herzi Halevi, as saying last week that his country and the US were "preparing for the worst".

In addition to the joint military exercises, this attack comes days after CIA Director Williams Burns' visit to Israel and ahead of Secretary of State Antony Blinken's trip to the region. 

AFP/KHALED DESOUKI - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a press conference in Cairo

The head of US diplomacy began his regional tour in Egypt, from where he will later travel to Israel to meet with Netanyahu and other members of the Israeli executive, such as Foreign Minister Eli Cohen. Blinken will also travel to the West Bank for talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other senior Palestinian officials. 

During his meetings in Israel and the West Bank, Blinken will emphasise the need to de-escalate current tensions in order to "end the cycle of violence that has claimed too many innocent lives," according to a State Department statement. Blinken arrives in the Middle East at a particularly sensitive time following two Palestinian attacks - one of which targeted a Jerusalem synagogue - that have left seven dead and several wounded. These attacks were carried out in response to an Israeli army raid in Jenin that left nine dead. 

In addition to stressing the importance of de-escalating tensions, Blinken will also discuss the threats posed by Iran with Israeli partners. In an interview with Al-Arabiya shortly before his trip, the Secretary of State said that Washington is "determined that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon". Blinken stressed that "all options are on the table" to ensure that this does not happen.

"You have to follow Antony Blinken's visit to the region very closely: the Iranian issue will remain on Washington's agenda," Iranian analyst Daniel Bashandeh told Atalayar. "What seems to be clear is that tensions in the region are on the rise," he adds, referring to the recent attack on the Iranian military facility.

PHOTO/AFP - Iranian paramilitary Basij forces take part in a demonstration marking al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day near a Shahab-3 missile

The Isfahan attack can have several readings and dimensions that respond to the role Iran is playing at the regional and international level. In addition to the strong confrontation between Tehran and Jerusalem, tensions between the Ayatollahs' regime and the West have increased in recent months due to Iran's military support for Russia during the war in Ukraine and the protests that began last September. Western countries have criticised and condemned the authorities' brutal crackdown on protesters, while Tehran has accused nations such as the UK, France, Germany, Israel and the US of being behind the protests.

Regarding its role in the Ukrainian war, the West views the forging ties between Moscow and Tehran with suspicion. "The pragmatic relationship between Russia and the Iranian regime needs to be closely monitored. After reaching agreements on military matters, they have recently signed an agreement to link their banking systems and facilitate economic cooperation," explains Bashandeh. "In doing so, Russia seeks to play a leading role in Iran's internal political development while setting the regional and international agenda through military cooperation," he adds.

PHOTO/ U.S. Navy Central Command/ VIA REUTERS - The U.S. Navy said on January 10, 2023 that it had seized more than 2,000 assault rifles on a fishing boat along a sea route from Iran to Yemen
Ukraine and Azerbaijan, two more Iranian fronts 

The attack on the military complex has been celebrated in Ukraine, a victim of Iranian drones supplied to the Russian military. "Explosive night in Iran," Mykhailo Podolyak, Ukrainian presidential adviser, wrote on Twitter, alluding to the drone and missile factory and the fire at the oil refinery. "Ukraine warned you," he added. As a result of these comments, Iran's foreign ministry has summoned Ukraine's chargé d'affaires in Tehran. 

In addition to its confrontation with Israel and its role in the war in Ukraine, it is necessary to highlight the current state of relations between Iran and Azerbaijan, the country from which the attack on Isfahan is suspected to have been launched. Baku and Jerusalem have close military ties that worry Tehran. Israel has provided Azerbaijan with drones, weapons that the Caucasus country has used to a greater extent to fight with Armenia in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.  

Recently, ties between Baku and Tehran have been dangerously strained after an attack on the Azeri embassy in the Iranian capital. Following the attack, Azerbaijan ordered the departure of its diplomatic staff from Iran and blamed the Islamic Republic for the attack, claiming "it did not take the necessary measures" to prevent it.

Americas Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra.