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Iran says drones attacked military factory, in latest hint of shadow war with Israel

The incident served as the latest flashpoint for rising tensions with Israel and the West over the country’s nuclear program and its supply of drones to Russia.
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Drones loaded with bombs targeted a military factory at the heart of the central Iranian city of Isfahan, authorities said Sunday, causing a large explosion and minor damage to the facility.

The incident served as the latest flashpoint for rising tensions over the country's nuclear program and its supply of drones to Russia. The news drew a celebratory reaction from Kyiv that earned its own rebuke from Tehran on Monday.

There was no immediate information on who might have carried out the attack, but focus quickly turned to Israel, which has been engaged in a shadow war with the Islamic Republic and is suspected of being behind a number of similar attacks in recent years.

'Defensive traps'

The Iranian defense ministry confirmed one of its workshop complexes had come under attack Saturday from a number of Micro Aerial Vehicles (MAVs), but said the complex’s air defenses had successfully repelled it.

A loud blast was heard at the military plant in Isfahan, but a security official said there were no casualties, Iranian state broadcaster IRIB said on its website Sunday.

“The explosion took place in one of the munitions manufacturing centers of the Defence Ministry and according to an announcement by the political and security deputy head of Isfahan Governorate,” IRIB reported, without giving further details.

Three quadcopters equipped with bombs were used in the attack, Iran’s defense ministry said in a statement shared with IRIB.  

“One of the MAVs was downed by the complex’s air defense fire, while the other two were caught in its defensive traps and exploded,” the statement said.

The ministry noted that the unsuccessful attack did not cause any loss of life and only led to minor damage to the roof of a workshop. The complex, it added, continues its ordinary operations following the attack. 

Eyewitness video that has been verified by NBC News shows a small explosion and plumes of gray smoke rising as cars drive past a home furnishings store geolocated as off the Imam Khomeini Expressway in Isfahan.

At a news conference on Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian described the attack as “cowardly,” and assured the public that such attacks will have no effect on the country’s overall march toward progress, according to the Tasnim News Agency.

Israel is widely believed to be behind a growing list of incidents like the drone attack that have hit Iranian military and nuclear targets in recent years. Benjamin Netanyahu, who recently returned as Israel’s prime minister, has long viewed Iran as a grave threat.

A spokesperson for both the Israeli Defense Forces and the CIA declined to comment.

Talks to revive Tehran's tattered nuclear deal with world powers have collapsed amid the regime's deadly crackdown on anti-government protesters, raising fears about the development of the country's nuclear program.

The attack comes as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken embarks on a three-day visit to a Middle East already fraught with concerns over the potential for escalation after spiraling violence in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. Washington and Israel also held a massive joint military exercise last week.

In Ukraine — where Russia has been using Iranian-supplied drones to attack civilian targets across cities far from the front lines — news of the incident prompted an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to draw a link between the two.

“War logic is inexorable & murderous. It bills the authors & accomplices strictly,” Zelenskyy adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted on Sunday. “Explosive night in Iran — drone & missile production, oil refineries. [Ukraine] did warn you.”

Reacting to Podolyak’s comments, Iran on Monday summoned Ukraine’s charge d’affaires in Tehran, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported. 

Russia’s foreign ministry on Monday condemned Sunday’s drone strike against its burgeoning ally and warned against “unpredictable consequences” that could escalate an already precarious situation.

“Such destructive actions could have unpredictable consequences for peace and stability in the Middle East,” foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said.

Amirabdollahian, Iran's foreign minister, acknowledged in November that his country had supplied Russia with drones, insisting the transfer came before Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.