A drone strike this week targeted a highly sensitive military site outside Tehran, where Iran is developing missile, nuclear and drone technology, according to three Iranians with knowledge of the attack and a US official.
Wednesday night’s attack struck the site of the Parchin military complex, about 60 kilometers southeast of the capital, with quadcopter suicide drones, Iranian sources said, which were not authorized to speak publicly. The drones exploded in a building used by the Defense Department for drone development research, killing a young engineer who worked at the ministry and injuring another person, they said.
Responsibility was not immediately claimed, but the attack followed a pattern of previous Israeli attacks on Iran and Lebanon in a covert campaign of hostility that has been going on for years. A statement from Iran’s Defense Ministry said it considered this an attack, not an accident.
Israeli officials declined to comment. A US official confirmed that suicide drones had attacked Parchin, but did not say who was behind it and did not provide further details.
On Sunday, just days before the attack on Parchin, a Revolutionary Guards colonel was shot dead in Tehran, and Israel told the United States it was behind his assassination, according to an intelligence official. The Israelis intended it as a warning to Iran to stop attacking Israeli civilians abroad, the official said.
Israel and Iran are increasingly pushing the boundaries in their long-running clandestine war, and the targeting of a drone research facility in Parchin follows a pattern of Israel seeking to counter Iran’s growing drone capabilities.
In recent years, Iran has made steady progress in the design and production of drones and the transfer of drone technology and parts to proxy militias in the Middle East. According to intelligence officials, Iranian drones have been used in numerous attacks on Israel, as well as in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and, last October, a US base in Syria.
Israel views the use of drones by its enemies, especially Iran, as a major threat to its security, as drones can evade Israel’s advanced anti-missile defense systems, such as the Iron Dome. A senior Israeli military official said the country was investing significant resources to locate and destroy enemy drones.
In early February, Israel sent six quadcopter drones carrying explosives to a facility near the city of Kermanshah, Iran’s main military drone manufacturing and storage plant, according to a senior intelligence official briefed on the operation.
That Israeli attack destroyed dozens of Iranian drones. Iran retaliated by firing ballistic missiles at a residential complex in northern Iraq that it said had been used by Israeli agents to plan attacks on Iran.
In June 2021, another attack was launched from the country with a quadcopter drone – which explodes on impact. It hit the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company, or TESA, in the city of Karaj. TESA is one of Iran’s main manufacturing centers for the production of the advanced centrifuges used in the country’s two nuclear facilities, Natanz and Fardow.
In light of long-standing suspicions that its nuclear program is aimed at producing weapons, Iran has maintained that it is for peaceful purposes only. The United Nations watchdog has said it has found no evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.
The drone attack on Wednesday was launched from Iran, not far from the Parchin military base, according to Iranian sources with knowledge of the attack. Quadcopter drones have a short flight range and Parchin is far from Iran’s borders.
This would not be the first time Israel has used agents in Iran to carry out attacks.
A statement from Iran’s Defense Ministry on Thursday used the word “incident” instead of “accident” to describe what happened in Parchin and called the engineer who died a “martyr”, a clear indication that his death was seen as a “martyr”. the result of an enemy action. The statement said one of the Defense Ministry’s research units in the Parchin area was hit.
Several well-known social media accounts affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, including military analyst Hossein Dalirian, have also posted that the engineer was a “martyr.”
The editor-in-chief of conservative Iranian news site Tabnnak, Mostafa Najafi, said in a Twitter post he later deleted on Thursday: “Israel attacked a defense ministry with a pair of suicide quadcopter drones.”
The military facility in Parchin has been under international scrutiny for years.
In 2011, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, said some countries were suspicious that Iran had been experimenting with developing nuclear weapons at Parchin. The agency’s inspectors gained access to the site in 2015.
Photos Israeli officials said were stolen from Iran’s nuclear archive in 2018 appear to show a giant metal chamber in a building on the Parchin military site that was built to conduct explosive experiments needed for assembly. of a nuclear warhead.
Eric Schmitt contributed to reporting.