In the wake of a drone strike against at least one defense factory in the central city of Isfahan, Iranian officials told Newsweek that any military option pursued by the United States against the Islamic Republic would result in all-out conflict with regionwide ramifications.
While the U.S. military has denied any role in the attack that took place late Saturday, local time, unnamed U.S. officials cited in major outlets such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times have placed the blame on Israel, a U.S. ally and Iran’s top foe, which has neither accepted nor denied involvement. No other entity has come forward with claims of responsibility.
But with President Joe Biden halting efforts to revive participation in the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), administration officials including Secretary of State Antony Blinken have asserted that “every option remains on the table” in ensuring that Tehran could not produce a nuclear weapon.
Iranian officials, who have consistently denied pursuing such a weapon of mass destruction, have warned that any military action the U.S. takes would spark a far larger escalation between the two powers.
“In Iran’s perspective, the use of the military option at any level means U.S. entry into the war,” Iran’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations told Newsweek.
“For now,” the Mission noted, “Iran considers such a possibility to be weak.”
But the Mission also stated that “if the U.S. miscalculates and starts a war,” that the “consequences for the region and the world” of such conflict would be “up to” Washington.
In the event of such a development, the Mission asserted that “there is no doubt that Iran possesses the capability to defend its security and interests.”
The Iranian Ministry of Defense described the incident as an “unsuccessful attack” carried out by three small drones against one of the ministry’s “workshop complexes.” One of the drones was said to have been downed by the facility’s air defenses, while two others were said to have exploded after being caught by other defensive measures.
“Fortunately, this unsuccessful attack did not cause any casualties and only caused minor damage to the roof of the workshop, which, by God’s grace,” the statement added, “did not cause a disruption to the equipment and the operations of the complex.”
The ministry assured that “the actions of our centers to produce power, authority and security will continue with speed and seriousness, and these blind actions will not have an impact on the continuation of the country’s progress.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian condemned the attack in a press conference.
“Following efforts by the enemies of Iran’s nation aiming to make Iran insecure in recent months, this cowardly act has been taken today,” Amir-Abdollahian told reporters. “Our country’s security will act with maximum potency to provide national security in the country, and such actions must not affect the will and intention of our experts to progress in the field of peaceful nuclear plans.”
Reached for comment, a Pentagon spokesperson told Newsweek that “we’ve seen the press reports, but can confirm that no U.S. military forces have conducted strikes or operations inside Iran.”
“We continue to monitor the situation, but have nothing further to provide,” the spokesperson added.
Army Major John Moore, spokesperson for U.S. Central Command, also denied any Pentagon role in the event, telling Newsweek that “U.S. military forces were not involved in this weekend’s strike in Iran.”
A spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) declined Newsweek‘s request to comment on the matter.
The IDF has regularly neither confirmed nor denied conducting operations against Iran, most often in third countries such as Syria, where yet another strike was reported Monday, resulting in what the U.K.-based, opposition-led Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported to be the death of the commander of an Iran-backed militia and two of his companions. It was the third strike reported in less than 24 hours in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, which borders Iraq.
Newsweek has recently reported on the IDF’s so-called “war between wars,” which included a concerted effort to target Iran’s operations in Syria, where Tehran has set out to shore up air defense capabilities against foes such as Israel. Israeli action within Iran itself was less common, however, though Israel has been accused for years of orchestrating high-profile assassinations and sabotage attempts on Iranian soil, mostly against individuals and sites tied to Iran’s nuclear program.
The latest unrest emerged as Blinken traveled to the Middle East, where he met Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Our policy, and my policy, is to do everything within Israel’s power to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, and that will remain so,” Netanyahu said. “But obviously, the fact that we and the United States are working together is something that is important for this common goal as well.”
Blinken said the Biden administration agreed “that Iran must never be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon,” and added that he and the Israeli premier “discussed deepening cooperation to confront and counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region and beyond.”
Last week, the two allies held their largest-ever joint live-fire exercise in Israel, involving nearly 8,000 troops along with more than 140 aircraft, including fifth-generation fighter jets and long-range bombers, 12 naval vessels and a number of artillery systems such as the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS).
In his comments on Monday, the top U.S. diplomat went on to criticize Iran’s supply of drones to Russia as the Kremlin continued to wage war on neighboring Ukraine, which has received extensive assistance from the U.S. and NATO allies.
Tehran’s growing defense ties with Moscow, along with crackdowns on nationwide protests gripping the Islamic Republic since the death of a woman in police custody in September, have been cited by U.S. officials as partially influencing the Biden administration’s decision to no longer “focus” on pursuing diplomacy toward reviving the JCPOA.
The multilateral deal, forged under then-President Barack Obama, allowed for the lifting of international sanctions against Iran in exchange for strict curbs on the country’s nuclear activities, but then-President Donald Trump abandoned the accord in 2018 and imposed waves of new economic restrictions that have hindered Tehran’s international trade ties.
Tensions between the U.S. and Iran under Trump nearly spilled into conflict on at least two occasions, following Iran’s shootdown of a U.S. spy drone over the Persian Gulf in June 2019 and the U.S. assassination of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani in January 2020.
Biden, who criticized his predecessor’s handling of Iran policy and supported the JCPOA, set out to restart negotiations toward returning the U.S. to the deal. He has demanded, however, that Iran first return to the nuclear enrichment limitations it suspended as a result of Washington’s exit and the threats of sanctions against other parties seeking to do business with Tehran.
Nine rounds of JCPOA revival talks were held in the Austrian capital in Vienna and a “final” draft was established by the European Union, but discussions unraveled last August.
As the Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the drone strike in Iran as having the potential to stoke “an uncontrolled escalation,” Ukrainian officials appeared to welcome it. Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the head of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky‘s office, suggested that the attack came as punishment for Iran transferring unmanned aerial systems to Russia.
“War logic is inexorable & murderous,” Podolyak tweeted Sunday. “It bills the authors & accomplices strictly. Panic in RF—endless mobilization, missile defense in Moscow, trenches 1000 km away, bomb shelters preparation.”
“Explosive night in Iran—drone & missile production, oil refineries,” he added. “[Ukraine] did warn you.”
The comments drew the ire of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, which summoned the charge d’affaires of the Ukrainian Embassy in Tehran on Monday over Podolyak’s “outland and baseless comments.”
“The Islamic Republic of Iran, while paying attention to the accepted principles of international law, has always emphasized the realization of national security and the protection of its interests, and will not compromise with any party on this matter,” ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said.
He also warned that “the Islamic Republic of Iran reserves its legitimate rights to take countermeasures against parties that have engaged in acts contrary to international law.”
Newsweek has reached out to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry for comment.
Kanaani’s warning Monday extended to Washington as well, as he accused Blinken and the White House National Security Council of making “threatening statements” against Tehran and sponsoring unrest within the Islamic Republic itself.
“The U.S. government knows all too well that Iran will not tolerate any aggression against its territory and interests,” Kanaani said, “and will respond to aggressors decisively and in a manner that would make them regret their action.”