Iran said one of its ammunition depots was attacked in a drone strike that’s stirred Middle East tensions as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits Israel.
It’s not known who was behind the strike near the central city of Isfahan late Saturday and there’s been no official statement by Iran casting blame. But Tehran has often pointed the finger at regional foe Israel for similar incidents in the past.
The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that Israel was responsible, citing unnamed US officials and people familiar with the operation. The aim was to look for new ways to contain Tehran’s nuclear and military ambitions, the report said.
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The US and Israel are in agreement that Iran must not have nuclear weapons and are working together to counter the nation’s influence in the region, Blinken and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in remarks to the press after meeting in Jerusalem on Monday.
“We discussed deepening cooperation to confront and counter Iran’s destabilizing activities,” Blinken said, adding that a further integration of Israel in the Middle East is also an aim. Neither he nor Netanyahu mentioned Saturday’s Iran attack in their statements.
Israeli officials declined to comment and the Pentagon has denied US involvement. The State Department also declined to comment on whether the US had prior knowledge of the strikes.
Blinken will visit Palestinian officials as part of the trip as violence in the West Bank soars. Israelis and Palestinians should work together to restore calm while committing to a two-state solution, the Secretary of State said.
Saturday’s Iran attack comes amid continued Western condemnation of the Islamic nation’s supply of military drones to Russia and its use of deadly force and executions to suppress anti-government protests. Efforts by world powers to revive a 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran also remain effectively suspended.
Iran says its nuclear work is for power generation and that it does not seek to build a bomb.
In the past, some attacks on Iran have been followed by strikes on ships in the Persian Gulf, and oil market investors are focused “on the risk of escalation and any potential disruptions in the Strait of Hormuz,” through which about 20 million barrels a day of oil flow, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts wrote in a note to clients.
The chances of attacks on Iranian oil facilities are low “because of the focus of the West on preventing rising energy prices,” they said.
Iranian officials have said the Defense Ministry complex on Imam Khomeini St. in Isfahan province was targeted by three unmanned “suicide drones” or “micro drones” at around 11.30 p.m. local time on Saturday that caused a heavy explosion.
One of them hit a building in the complex, causing “minor damage” to its ceiling. The other two were “engaged by defense systems in the area” before blowing themselves up, deputy provincial governor Mohammadreza Jan-Nesari said on Sunday according to the semi-official Iranian Students’ News Agency.
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A video published by the state-run Nour News on Instagram showed a loud blast at a low level building near a busy road, causing a burst of flames and sparks.
Anwar Mohammed Gargash, the United Arab Emirates’ presidential diplomatic adviser, said in a tweet the blast “is not in the interest of the region or its future.”
“There is no alternative to dialog and a political solution to avoid escalation,” he said.
The UAE sits in an uneasy position, separated from Iran by the narrow Persian Gulf. It normalized relations with Israel in part because of shared concerns about Tehran, but like other Gulf oil exporters is keen to avoid destabilizing conflict in the region.
Iran blamed Israel for an April 2021 attack on the key Natanz nuclear enrichment site that affected power supply to the facility and damaged a number of centrifuges. Authorities also said they foiled a plot by Israel’s Mossad spy agency in July to set off explosives at an unspecified “sensitive center” in Isfahan.
--With assistance from Dana Khraiche and Alisa Odenheimer.
(Updates with Blinken, Netanyahu comments in fourth paragraph.)
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