REPORTING FROM TEHRAN AND BEIRUT -- Rejecting reports in the Western media, Iran’s military chief of staff reiterated Wednesday that the massive explosion that killed a top Iranian missile commander and 16 others was not the result of sabotage by Israel or the United States.
The blast “is not related to Israel or America,” Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi told reporters at a ceremony to commemorate those killed in Saturday’s blast at a Revolutionary Guard depot west of the capital, Tehran, the official Fars News Agency reported.
It was Tehran’s latest denial of foreign mischief in the thundering explosion, which shook the capital, about 25 miles way.
Among the 17 killed was Gen. Hassan Tehrani Moqaddam, an engineer who has been described as the chief of Iran’s ballistic missile program, by some accounts trained in China and North Korea.
Iranian officials have said the blast or blasts — some accounts indicated there was more than one explosion — occurred as munitions were being moved. While the investigation is ongoing, authorities have indicated that the cause was accidental.
Firouzabadi said the incident disrupted “production of a very important product,” Fars reported. But the official news agency said it was only a two-week setback and personnel “would soon resume their work with more strength.”
The timing of the blast, which occurred amid rampant media speculation about an Israeli or U.S. strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, has raised suspicions, both in Iran and abroad. Some reports have linked the explosion to Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. Other accounts have postulated that missiles were being moved to safeguard them from a potential Israeli or U.S. strike.
Iran’s Shahab missiles, based on a North Korean model, can reportedly reach Israeli territory at their longest range.
Israel has not commented on the cause of the blast. Tel Aviv has also been mum on reports tying it to a shadow war involving, among other attacks, assassinations of Iranian scientists and the introduction of the Stuxnet computer virus targeting Iran’s nuclear program. The Israeli press has shown considerable interest in Saturday’s “mysterious explosion.”
In Iran, too, Saturday’s big boom continues to generate conjecture — one reason, perhaps, why Tehran stresses again and again what it calls the accidental nature of the mishap, even though the investigation is not yet complete, and no official finding has been released.
Exonerating archenemies Israel and the United States from any foul deed seems to some a peculiar turn of events, likely deserving further inquiry. An uneasy Iranian populace, steeped in intrigue and conspiracy theories, sometimes assumes the opposite of what its leaders say.
-- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut
Photo: Iranians carry the flag-draped coffin Monday of a Revolutionary Guard member killed in a weekend explosion at a depot west of Tehran. Credit: Associated Press