The Associated Press is reporting that a huge explosion occurred on Friday that rattled Tehran and lit up the horizon. The site of the blast was a region where many nuclear experts believe Iran conducted high-explosive tests relating to its nuclear program.
The explosion happened in the Alborz mountains, just east of the city. Satellite photos show the massive extent of the blast.
This Sentinel-2 GIF shows the difference at Khojir Missile Base in 🇮🇷#Iran (35.687799 N, 51.651720 E) because of the recent explosion: it looks like fire burnt down 20 ha of land WNW of a now exploded building. https://t.co/a3jOorzpYn pic.twitter.com/hyGcJOQXTw
— Gerjon | חריון (@Gerjon_) June 28, 2020
Satellite photos of the area, some 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) east of downtown Tehran, showed hundreds of meters (yards) of charred scrubland not seen in images of the area taken in the weeks ahead of the incident. The building near the char marks resembled the facility seen in the state TV footage.
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 footage on Iranian TV shows charred gas canisters and not much else.
One of its journalists stood in front of what appeared to be large, blackened gas cylinders, though the camera remained tightly focused and did not show anything else around the site. Defense Ministry spokesman Davood Abdi blamed the blast on a leaking gas he did not identify and said no one was killed in the explosion.
For a gas explosion, the Iranian government treated it as a security problem. Civilian firefighters were banned and access was extremely limited.
The area of the blast near Iran’s Khojir missile base was identified in 2017 as a nuclear research facility despite Iran’s pledge to reveal all its nuclear infrastructure in the nuclear deal with the West.
“The project to actively pursue production of nuclear warheads is conducted in Khojir by the Hemmat Missile Industries Group,” the report notes. “Due to the extreme sensitivity of manufacturing nuclear warheads, Nouri Industry has its own security and military police; individuals who have clearance to other parts of Khojir site are not allowed to go to this section.”
Intelligence findings also reveal that “scores of large underground tunnels have been constructed in this military complex,” this providing “the possibility and flexibility of covering up the activities of the warhead project, or transferring it to a different location in the complex.” Furthermore, the Iranian Resistance states that North Korean experts cooperate with the regime’s experts in the project, and have been “particularly helpful in designing the aerodynamics aspects, the shape of the warhead, and have also provided the design for the Hemmat site, its tunnels, and underground centers.”
This is not exactly a smoking gun, but it’s extremely troubling. Iran is barred from developing ballistic missiles by UN Security Council resolutions and any indication that they continue to work on them is dangerous.
Whether the blast was the result of a gas leak or an accident in the lab during experiments on a nuclear trigger is unknown. But this recently-discovered secret military facility certainly should be thoroughly investigated by the IAEA.