Iranian Missile Facility Blows Up, and Conspiracy Theories Abound in Tehran

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When a major explosion lit the skies on the edge of Tehran last week, the Iranian government was quick to dismiss the episode as a gas explosion at the Parchin military base, which was once the focus of international nuclear inspectors.

It turned out that was false: Satellite photographs show the explosion happened at a missile production facility not far from Parchin, a base laced with underground tunnels and long suspected to be a major site for Iran’s growing arsenal.

But beyond Tehran’s effort at misdirection — commercial satellite photographs showed the telltale burn marks of the explosion and the location — it is unclear whether the cause was an accident, sabotage or something else.

American and Israeli intelligence officials insist they had nothing to do with it.

But in Iran, where curating conspiracy theories is a national pastime, the sight of a huge explosion in eastern Tehran quickly merged on social media with news of a power outage in Shiraz, nearly 600 miles to the south. Shiraz also has major military facilities, and the explosion and the outage happened within the same hour on Friday.

There is no evidence the incidents were related.

Nuclear inspectors visited the Parchin military facility five years ago after years of standoffs with the Iranian authorities. Renovations at the facility had been so extensive that it led to suspicions that the government might have been trying to hide past work on nuclear detonation technologies.

After the episode last week, Iranian news organizations were shown a small hole in an otherwise intact gas tank, which seemed an improbable explanation for an explosion so large that pictures of the flames, taken miles from the site, showed up on Twitter.

By the end of the weekend, overhead commercial photographs showed a scorched hillside at the Khojir missile production complex in eastern Tehran, where both liquid and solid propellants are made for Iran’s missile fleets.

“It seems likely that some sort of gas or liquid storage tank blew up,” said Fabian Hinz, an expert on Iran’s military at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, Calif. “Probably industrial gas that’s needed for missile production,” he said, but it was unclear from the photos. The main buildings at the missile production center appeared undamaged.

Iran’s missile program has long been a target of Israeli intelligence agencies. A large explosion in 2011, which killed a key architect of Iran’s missile program, is widely viewed as an act of sabotage.

But this explosion may have been different. Two Israeli intelligence services that operate outside Israel’s borders, the Mossad and the Israel De

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