A top Iranian general said Wednesday that, contrary to speculation, the U.S. and Israel were not behind a weekend munitions base blast that killed 17 Revolutionary Guards including a key ballistics missile expert.
“The recent blast has nothing to do with Israel or America,” General Hassan Firouzabadi, the chief of staff of Iran's armed forces, was quoted as saying by Fars news agency.
He was confirming the Iranian description of the explosion as an “accident” and implicitly rejecting suggestions in Israeli and Western media that it might have been a covert military operation by Israel or the United States.
Firouzabadi said Saturday’s blast at the base in Bid Ganeh, outside Tehran, slowed down development of an undisclosed military “product.”
“It has only delayed by two weeks the manufacturing of an experimental product by the (Revolutionary) Guards which could be a strong fist in the face of arrogance (the United States) and the occupying regime (Israel),” he was quoted as saying.
Saturday’s explosion killed General Hassan Moqaddam, the head of the Revolutionary Guards unit responsible for industrial research to ensure weapons self-sufficiency.
Moqaddam specialized in artillery during the 1980s Iraq-Iran war before founding the force’s ballistics program, according to information provided by officials in Tehran.
Guards spokesman Ramezan Sharif said the blast occurred as munitions were being moved out of the base to another site. He did not say why Moqaddam was present.
Set up after the 1979 Islamic revolution, the Guards are in charge of Iran’s missile program, including Shahab-3 ballistic missiles with a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) capable of hitting Israel.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has hailed the deadly munitions blast and said he hoped for more such incidents.
Time magazine said the explosion was the work of the Israeli spy agency Mossad, citing an unidentified “Western intelligence source.”
Iran has in the past has accused Israel of carrying out covert attacks on its soil, notably the assassinations of two of its nuclear scientists in Tehran in 2010.