Major Iranian city of Isfahan is the scene of explosions

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Isfahan, a city known for its palaces, minarets, and tiled mosques—where explosions were audible during the night—is also a significant hub for the military industry.

Known as “Nesf-e-Jahaan” or half the world, Iran’s third-biggest city is situated in the nation’s center, close to the Zagros mountains. Ballistic missile and drone manufacturers are located in the city and surrounding area. The most significant hub for Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, the Natanz nuclear facility, is located not too far away.

The significance of an attack there would not have been ignored, since the word Isfahan is associated with Iran’s nuclear facilities.

If this incident was indeed Israeli, then Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration appears to have been indicating to Iran that it is capable of hitting those strategic locations in the province, even though it isn’t doing so just now.

Isfahan province’s nuclear facilities were declared “completely secure” by Iranian officials without delay. Iran disputes claims it is trying to utilize its civilian nuclear program to acquire nuclear weapons. Iran is a non-nuclear weapon state.

Nevertheless, accounts of what transpired last night differ. The spokesman for Iran’s space agency, Hossein Dalirian, denied allegations of a missile attack and stated that “several” drones had been “successfully shot down”.

Three explosions have been reported by some Iranian media in the vicinity of a military air base and Isfahan airport. Iran has not acknowledged that Israel was the attacker.

Abdolrahim Mousavi, the head of Iran’s army, said that “the firing of anti-aircraft defense systems on a suspicious object” was the cause of Friday’s explosions.

According to Iranian officials and media, three drones were used in the incident, and “infiltrators” were responsible for their launch. Some of the Iranian Air Force’s aging F-14 fighter jets are housed at their facility at Isfahan Airport.

Under the Shah, Iran initially obtained F-14s manufactured in the United States and has continued to use them ever since. It is the only nation worldwide that continues to fly operationally the warplanes made famous by Top Gun.

There have also allegedly been Israeli attacks on Isfahan in the past. Iran accused Israel in January 2023 of carrying out a drone strike on an armaments plant located in the city’s center. According to reports, quadcopters—small drones with four propellers—were used in the attack.

In subsequent years, reports of similar drone assaults have been made from various locations in Iran. Israel has not acknowledged being the source of any of these assaults.

Expert on chemical weapons and former commander of the nuclear forces for both the UK and NATO, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon told the BBC that attacking Isfahan was “very significant” due to the large number of military bases in and around the city.

Additionally, he said, the alleged missile strike was “perhaps a nod to that” because it was “fairly near to where we believe Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons.”

He noted that nearly all of the more than 300 drones and missiles Iran fired at Israel the previous weekend were intercepted, while Israel had shot “one, perhaps two” missiles at a target and inflicted “damage.” He described the Israeli strike as “very much a demonstration of capability and perhaps intent.”

He claimed that Iranian officials were downplaying the strike because they did not want the success of Israel in bypassing Iran’s “antiquated” air defense systems to be made public.

“Israel militarily vastly overmatches Iran, and this is a demonstration of that,” he stated.

“Iran would far more like to fight in the shadows using its terror groups and proxy rather than go toe to toe with Israel conventionally where it knows it would get a real hammering.”

Russia, which has been working with Iran on military matters more and more closely, has told Israel that Iran “does not want escalation,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday.

“Our representatives, the Israelis, and the leaders of Russia and Iran have spoken over the phone.” We warned the Israelis in these talks that Iran does not desire an escalation, and we made that quite plain,” Mr. Lavrov said on Russian radio.

Following the alleged Israeli missile strike on its consulate in Syria on April 1, Mr. de Bretton-Gordon stated that Iran had “slightly restored pride” after attacking Israel the previous weekend and did not want to escalate further.

It is aware of Israel’s unwavering resolve and the apparent support of the US and other countries. Iran is somewhat isolated and can only really rely on a little assistance, with the possible exception of a little assistance from Russia, which is eager to maintain attention on the Middle East rather than Ukraine, the expert added.

“The last thing they want to do is get some of their key facilities hit.”