American, Israeli Officials Deny Sabotage of Iranian Missile Site, Report Says

New York Times report says Israeli officials insist they had nothing to do with the blast near the Parchin military base, which analysts say occurred at a missile production facility

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Photo from the European Commission's Sentinel-2 satellite shows the site of the explosion, June 26, 2020.
Photo from the European Commission's Sentinel-2 satellite shows the site of the explosion, June 26, 2020. Credit: ,AP

American and Israeli intelligence officials told the New York Times Tuesday that they had nothing to do with the damage done to a suspected missile production facility near Tehran on Friday.

Shortly after an explosion rattled Tehran, satellite photographs documented burn marks at a site analysts say is a missile production facility near the Parchin military base. Intelligence analysts are unsure if the explosion was accidental or if the facility was sabotaged, although Tehran has attributed the blast to a gas explosion.

The explosion appears to have charred hundreds of meters of scrubland.
Analysts say the blast on June 26, 2020, came from an area in Tehran's eastern mountains they hides a underground tunnel system and missile production sites.

According to the New York Times report, Israeli officials insisted that Israel was not involved. The report said Mossad and military intelligence are investigating the incident but have not yet reached a final conclusion. The IDF and office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to comment, as neither usually respond to foreign reports.

American officials also doubted it was an act of sabotage, as the United States and Israel often coordinate on such missions, as they did with the cyberattack on Iran's nuclear centrifuge facility in 2010

Analysts noted that little damage was done to the facility, and that if it was an act of sabotage, it was designed to not invite retaliation but rather to show Iranian leadership that foreign powers had insiders in sensitive military programs. 

The gas storage area sits near what analysts describe as Iran's Khojir missile facility. The explosion appears to have struck a facility for the Shahid Bakeri Industrial Group, which makes solid-propellant rockets, said Fabian Hinz, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California.

The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies identified Khojir as the “site of numerous tunnels, some suspected of use for arms assembly.” Large industrial buildings at the site visible from satellite photographs also suggest missile assembly being conducted there.

The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency says Iran overall has the largest underground facility program in the Middle East.

Such sites “support most facets of Tehran’s ballistic missile capabilities, including the operational force and the missile development and production program,” the DIA said in 2019.

Iran's missile and space programs have suffered a series of explosions in recent years. The most notable came in 2011, when a blast at a missile base near Tehran killed Revolutionary Guard commander Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, who led the paramilitary force's missile program, and 16 others. Initially, authorities described the blast as an accident, though a former prisoner later said the Guard interrogated him on suspicion Israel caused the explosion.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.