Nov. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Reports of a blast in the province of Isfahan, home to one of Iran’s atomic facilities, adds to a series of unexplained incidents that have raised suspicions of sabotage against the country’s nuclear program.
An explosion was heard in Isfahan at 2:40 p.m. yesterday and an investigation is underway, the state-run Fars news agency said. Authorities later played down the report. Gholamreza Ansari, head of the province’s judiciary, said he had heard the “blast-like sound” and it didn’t seem to be important. Mohammad-Mehdi Ismaeli, a deputy to Isfahan’s governor, said reports of a powerful explosion were unfounded. “Maybe somebody’s water heater exploded,” he told Mehr news agency.
Still, coming after the deaths of several people linked to Iran’s nuclear program, and amid increased pressure on Iran from the U.S. and its allies, which accuse the Islamic republic of seeking to develop atomic weapons, the incident has strengthened the argument that sabotage is involved.
“While it’s impossible to confirm, recent events in Iran raise suspicions,” said Gala Riani, a Middle East analyst at London-based forecaster IHS Global Insight. It’s possible that “foreign powers would want to carry out clandestine activity to sabotage Iran’s nuclear and military progress,” she said. “Diplomacy doesn’t seem to work and military strikes isn’t something anyone really wants to carry out.”
The central province of Isfahan hosts a nuclear fuel plant, which produces uranium pellets to feed a reactor. Iran says its efforts to develop nuclear technology are aimed at securing energy for its growing population of about 75 million.
A Nov. 12 explosion at a military base west of Tehran killed at least 17 people, state media reported. The blast took place as military personnel were transporting munitions and killed Hassan Tehrani Moqaddam, director of the Revolutionary Guards’ Jihad Self-Sufficiency Organization, Fars said.
Last year, malicious software known as Stuxnet affected some of the country’s computer systems and several centrifuges used in its uranium-enrichment program, Iranian officials have said. Several scientists and officials linked to the nuclear and missile programs have been the target of attacks in the last two years.
Researcher Massoud Ali-Mohammadi was shot dead outside his Tehran home in 2010. Majid Shahriari, a scientist involved in Iran’s nuclear program, died in a Tehran bombing in November that year. A second blast in the capital on the same day injured Fereydoun Abasi, a physicist who was linked to the program in a 2007 UN resolution imposing sanctions.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in November last year that Iran should know “all options are on the table” to halt its nuclear program. Two weeks ago, Netanyahu called for an international campaign to stop Iran after an International Atomic Energy Agency report suggested that the country had worked on building a nuclear bomb.
This month the U.S, U.K. and Canada tightened punitive measures against Iran, adding to four rounds of United Nations Security Council sanctions by targeting the country’s oil industry and its central bank. EU foreign ministers are scheduled to meet Dec. 1 to discuss measures against Iran.
--Editors: Ben Holland, Heather Langan.
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