Drone attack on Iranian ammunition plant: What do we know so far?

Armoured personnel carriers take part in a military exercise in Isfahan, Iran, in this handout image obtained on September 8, 2022

The Islamic Republic claimed this was a “failed attack” but videos shared online showed that something happened.

An Iranian defense ministry facility that includes storage or manufacturing of arms, exploded this weekend in the Iranian city of Isfahan. Iran claimed this was a “failed attack,” but videos shared online show that more happened.

Iran continues to supply drones to Russia in its invasion of Ukraine and they are also a major threat to the Middle East. Because the explosion coincided with an earthquake in northwest Iran some of the videos posted online may have incorrectly linked apparent drone attacks near Isfahan with the earthquake that occurred 1,000 km. away.

Reports circulating on social media suggested a number of reasons for the incidents, linking it to Iran’s supplying of drones to Russia as well as Iran’s tensions both with Israel and the international community.

The drone attack on Iranian facility in Isfahan

The Wall Street Journal wrote that “Israel carried out a clandestine drone strike targeting a defense compound in Iran… according to US officials and people familiar with the operation.”

According to UAE-based Al-Ain media, the Iranian defense ministry said that “small drones targeted one of the centers” at around 11 p.m. on Saturday. “Fortunately, with predictions and defensive measures, the air defense system of the complex managed to detonate two planes at the top of the complex, while the third caused minor damage to the market of the military complex affiliated with the ministry,” the Iranian report said, according to Al-Ain.

An Iranian woman walks past election campaign posters in Naghsh-e-Jahan square in Isfahan (credit: REUTERS/RAHEB HOMAVANDI CRB)

One of the incidents may have happened on Imam Khomeini Street in Isfahan, a major thoroughfare in the 12th district of the city.

Iran has admitted that “some damage to the roof” occurred but claims that the incident has not resulted in any disruption of operations, apparently in contrast to other reports that described three large explosions.

Tasnim news agency, affiliated with the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), wrote on its Telegram channel that three explosions were heard in the city of Isfahan, one of which was in an ammunition manufacturing center affiliated with the defense ministry. According to the report, there were casualties.

So, Iran is scrambling to figure out what happened and to win control of the narrative. A political source in Isfahan told media that there were no injuries and that “the nature of this accident is being investigated, while the rescue and security forces present at the site are dispersing the crowd present at the scene,” Al-Ain noted. The report also says that anti-aircraft fire was heard near Imam Khomeini Street.

Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) in Iran has said that one of the alleged drones used in the attack was hit by air defense fire while another caused damage to a roof of a facility. There was also a fire near a factory in the northern city of Tabriz.

The Drive, an automotive news site, compiled most of the known open-source information about the incidents, including videos, tweets and the geo-locations of various sites.

A video from Tehran apparently shows a glowing light in the sky in the West Azerbaijan province. An earthquake occurred in West Azerbaijan and it’s unclear if these reports got confused with the drone attack reports.

Iranian media said that the area of Khoy, near Azerbaijan was affected by the earthquake on Saturday night. Khoy is located 1,000 km. from Isfahan.

The Drive’s ‘The War Zone’ said it was “unable to confirm Iranian claims. There are further unconfirmed reports of air activity out of Tehran’s Mehrabad Air Base, which houses Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force aircraft after a reported unknown aircraft was spotted flying over the Iranian capital.”

AP noted that “footage of the strike, as well as footage of the aftermath, corresponded to a site on Minoo Street in northwestern Isfahan that’s near a shopping center that includes a carpet and an electronics store.” That report says that the site in Isfahan “is home to both a large air base built for its fleet of American-made F-14 fighter jets and its Nuclear Fuel Research and Production Center.”

Was the attack linked to Iran's supply of drones to Russia?

Over the past several years, Iran has expanded its drone and missile manufacturing facilities. Jason Brodsky, a Middle East analyst and expert on Iran, tweeted: “This operation tonight targeting the MODAFL facility in Isfahan had a similar modus operandi to the one from June 2021 which attacked the TESA Karaj facility. In the latter, the drones were launched from inside Iran.”

Iran has also continued to enrich uranium as part of its nuclear program at several sites in the country. The various reports, including out of Iran International, indicate the site in Isfahan was an “ammunition” facility.

Does that mean it was making munitions or storing them? It’s not clear yet.

A drone is launched during a military exercise in an undisclosed location in Iran, in this handout image obtained on August 25, 2022 (credit: VIA REUTERS)

Other reports claimed that the site also manufactures drones. If true, this would be an interesting case of drones being used to destroy drones.

Iran has numerous facilities linked to its drone programs, including sites in southern Iran at Chabahar and Qashm islands. Iran has been accused of using its Kashan base north of the city of Isfahan for training with drones. It has invited terror and militant groups from the region to train at that site.

Kashan, however, is some 200 km. north of Isfahan. It is not clear if there is any linkage between the reports on Saturday evening and Sunday morning and the Kashan site.

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