At least seven ships were set ablaze in the Iranian port of Bushehr, marking another instance of potential foreign sabotage, the Times of Israel reported Wednesday.
Local firefighters and a crisis management team from a nearby nuclear power plant responded to the fire, which broke out at a Persian Gulf shipyard that builds hulls for Iranian boats. The fire was the fourth to break out near a major Iranian military-related industrial area in the past month. The blasts have fueled speculation of foreign sabotage by the United States or Israel.
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The fires rage as the coronavirus pandemic, political unrest, and economic sanctions continue to hit Iran hard. The Islamic Republic faces "one of its biggest economic challenges in decades," according to an Atlantic Council report. In an attempt to mitigate this downturn, Tehran is nearing a strategic partnership with China which could bail out its oil and energy industries.
Iranian officials have offered conflicting explanations for the explosions. After a recent explosion in Tehran, one provincial official said the incident occurred due to faulty systems at a gas cylinder factory, while another said it stemmed from failures at a nearby power plant.
One expert likened the recent series of explosions to covert operations undertaken through the United States-led Stuxnet cyberattacks on Iranian nuclear plants during the Bush administration. The Stuxnet offensive targeted nuclear centrifuges across Iran, successfully causing damage to more than a thousand of the machines.
Israel has suggested it will spare little quarter for Iranian military expansion. "Iran cannot be allowed to have nuclear capabilities," Israeli foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi said. To counter Iranian aggression, "we take actions that are better left unsaid," he added.