(TMU) – There have been five mysterious explosions and fires in Iran in a short time frame, many at secure sites. Iran claims it will retaliate, as they indirectly blame the U.S. and Israel for attacks on the infrastructure.
On June 25th, a massive explosion in Tehran burned a hillside near a suspected missile complex at Khojir which was blamed on a gas leak. Subsequently, there was a reported power outage in the city of Shiraz, leaving 1.2 million households without electricity, according to reports. This power outage was allegedly caused by an explosion that took place at a power station in Shiraz, Radio Farda reported.
Iranian TV showed video footage of what they claimed was the industrial fuel storage facility that had blown up.
Then on June 30th, a medical center suffered a gas explosion in Tehran, killing at least 19 people, which was again blamed on a gas leak.
However, Iranian authorities later walked back claims it was a gas leak and detained one person, while they are still seeking to arrest at least four others over the deadly blast at the clinic in Tehran.
Reports that the explosion in Iran happened at Parchin–a military base where Iran has conducted nuclear activity.
No official comment
— Farnaz Fassihi (@farnazfassihi) June 25, 2020
Following the medical center incident, on July 2nd there was an explosion at Iran’s Natanz enrichment facility.
On Thursday, there was also a large fire that broke out in a garden in Iran’s Shiraz. The cause of the fire remains unknown, according to the news outlet Alarabiya.
Finally, it has now been reported that an explosion rocked a nuclear power station Zargan in southwestern Iran on Saturday, affecting the transformer in the city of Ahvaz.
Tasnim, an Iranian news site, reports that the fire at the nuclear plant was quickly put out by firefighters, and power was restored after partial outages. At the same time, the Mahshahr Petrochemical Zone also announced that there was a chlorine leak in the Karun Petrochemical plant.
It’s worth noting that, on Thursday, hours after a building at a nuclear facility was reportedly blown up, that there were reports of an “explosive device” planted inside the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility, which raises questions about the nuclear power station explosion that happened Saturday in Ahvas.
— Jason Brodsky (@JasonMBrodsky) July 2, 2020
The New York Times reported that “a Middle Eastern intelligence official…said the blast was caused by an explosive device planted inside the facility. The explosion, he said, destroyed much of the above-ground parts of the facility.”
A group called the “Cheetahs of the Homeland” claimed responsibility for the explosion at the Natanz nuclear facility, according to emails allegedly sent to BBC Persian prior to the attack. The emails arrived “hours before any news of the incident had emerged,” according to Radio Farda, the Jerusalem Post reported.
The group, which has never been heard of by Iranian officials, claims to be dissident members of Iran’s security forces, according to the Associated Press.
Later, there was even a video uploaded to social media of the group claiming responsibility. Tehran said it knew the cause of the explosions but stated it wouldn’t make them public due to “security reasons.”
IRNA news indirectly blamed the “Zionist regime and the US” and said they were “crossing red lines.” Even stranger, a Kuwaiti newspaper, Al-Jarida Daily, added to that claim, stating the attacks were in retaliation for an alleged attempt by Tehran to hack Israel’s water infrastructure, The Times Of Israel reported.
“So far Iran has tried to prevent intensifying crises and the formation of unpredictable conditions and situations,” IRNA said. “But the crossing of red lines of the Islamic Republic of Iran by hostile countries, especially the Zionist regime and the U.S., means that strategy … should be revised.”
The unnamed source continues, expressing that Israel was behind two of the blasts at Iranian facilities. One facility being related to uranium enrichment, the other for missile production. The paper went on to further detail how Israeli F-35 stealth fighter jets bombed a site located in the area of Parchin, which is believed to house a missile production warehouse.
Al-Jarida claimed to have learned from unnamed sources that the Natanz fire was the result of a cyberattack aimed at the gas compression systems, and that a blast allegedly caused a crack in a reactor building. The same newspaper previously reported that the Parchin incident was also caused by a cyberattack.
The claims weren’t confirmed by Israeli officials. However, it’s notable that The Times Of Israel reported there was a cyberattack in April on Israel’s water infrastructure – in an attempt to create dangerous levels of chlorine into the Israeli water supply.
The attack on Israel’s water supply involved six Israeli water facilities. The incidents were actually successful, damaging Israel’s water supply and wastewater management. Iran successfully hacked into the controllers that ran the water pumps including the chlorine tanks that control the addition of chlorine to Israeli water distribution pipes. It’s important to note how potentially lethal to the civilian population such an attack is to release large amounts of chlorine into the water supply.
After the attack on the water plants, Israel responded stating:
“Iranian attacks crossed a red line,” a senior Israeli official said. “This is an attack which defies all [ethical] codes, even in war. Even from the Iranians, we did not expect such a thing. This is an attack which it’s forbidden to conduct.”
The first alleged Israeli response to the water supply attack was an alleged Israeli cyberattack on the Shahid Rajaee shipping terminal in Bandar Abbas, Iran. That attack caused minor disruption and was criticized as a weak reaction to the dangerous water supply move by Iran. The Iranians expressed that the attack on the shipping terminal was a failure.
A report by the Washington Post, citing foreign and US officials, said Israel was likely behind the hack that brought the “bustling Shahid Rajaee port terminal to an abrupt and inexplicable halt” on May 9th.
“Computers that regulate the flow of vessels, trucks and goods all crashed at once, creating massive backups on waterways and roads leading to the facility,” the Post reported.
An unnamed Western official also told Israeli TV that the cyberattack was retaliation for Tehran’s failed attempted assault in April on Israel’s water infrastructure, Times Of Israel reported.
Iran hinted that the explosion at its Natanz nuclear facility was a “cyber attack.” Although not stating such directly. They comments were made by Iran’s civil defense chief, Reuters reported.
“Responding to cyber attacks is part of the country’s defense might. If it is proven that our country has been targeted by a cyberattack, we will respond,” said Iranian civil defense chief Gholamreza Jalali.
Reuters further reports that three Iranian officials spoke to the news agency on the condition of anonymity stating they believed the fire was the result of a cyberattack, but failed to cite evidence. Two of those officials blamed Israel, while one of the officials said the attack had targeted a centrifuge assembly building – referring to the delicate cylindrical machines that enrich uranium.
Experts told the Associated Press that the Natanz incident apparently impacted a centrifuge production plant above Iran’s underground Natanz nuclear enrichment facility.
This isn’t the first time that Natanz has been struck by an attack, if that is what we’re looking at here.
In 2010, workers found that high-speed centrifuges had been sabotaged by the ‘Stuxnet’ computer worm.
There is no public information available to determine if at least some of the latest explosions were indeed the result of a sophisticated cyber-attack. Nor is there evidence suggesting that all four incidents last week are connected, however, it seems to be a hell of a coincidence.
It’s also important to note that the Stunext computer worm was allegedly designed to be non-lethal, unlike all the recent attacks which have caused large explosions.
Is this even technologically possible?
According to an expert at Kaspersky labs, in 2003 Evgeny Kaspersky stated that when the U.S. North East had its power outage, it was caused by a virus. The infamous Stuxnet virus was designed to destroy nuclear power plant infrastructure.
In fact, the CIA even admitted this was possible in 2008 when former CIA senior analyst Tom Donahue admitted they had evidence of successful cyber attacks against critical national infrastructures outside the United States. The SANS Institute, a computer-security training body, reported the CIA’s disclosure, according to CNET.
“We have information that cyberattacks have been used to disrupt power equipment in several regions outside the U.S.,” Donahue said. “In at least one case, the disruption caused a power outage affecting multiple cities.”
Then in 2009, CBS 60 minutes reported that electrical blackouts impacting millions of people in Brazil in 2005 and 2007 were caused by hackers targeting control systems.
Let’s circle back to Iran, and something more relevant.
For those who don’t remember, former President Barack Obama in his first months in office secretly ordered cyberattacks on the computer systems that ran Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities, including Natanz, with Stuxnet, New York Times reported.
Around 2006, under then-President George W. Bush, cyberattacks were authorized under Operation Olympic Games. The first known attack was reported in 2007 according to Symantec Corp who uncovered a version of the Stuxnet computer virus that was used to attack Iran’s nuclear program, Reuters previously reported.
Under Obama, the program continued and Stuxnet accidentally infected unintended targets which eventually compromised the secrecy of the entire covert operation.
As reported in 2013, the discovery of an early Stuxnet version showed the worm was in development no later than November of 2005, almost two years earlier than had been previously thought. According to an article published by BuzzFeed, the more aggressive version of Stuxnet was unilaterally released by Israel personnel, to the “consternation of many of their U.S. counterparts.”
The secrecy of the operation known as “Nitro Zeus” which reportedly targeted Iran’s air defenses, communications, and power grid, “was blown,” a U.S. source told filmmakers of the documentary film Zero Days, according to BuzzFeed. “Our friends in Israel took a weapon that we jointly developed—in part to keep Israel from doing something crazy—and then used it on their own in a way that blew the cover the operation and could’ve led to war.”
If we are looking at a Stuxnet version 2.0, this new virus proves to be a bigger, more sophisticated malware than the original that was unleashed on the world.