Israel Drone Strike Hit Iranian Weapons Facility

Israel Drone Strike Hit Iranian Weapons Facility

An Israeli drone strike inside Iran hit an advanced weapons-production facility in an attack that Israel believes achieved its goals, according to people familiar with discussions about the operation.

The operation early Sunday morning was executed by Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, and targeted a Ministry of Defense site in Isfahan in central Iran, hitting a building in four different areas with precision strikes, the people said. Satellite photos showed what appeared to be minor damage to the site’s roof, but the people called the mission successful, without elaborating.

The account contradicts Iranian officials who have said the country’s air defenses had fended off an attempted attack on an ammunition depot that caused minimal damage.

The attack marked another chapter in the long-running conflict between Israel and Iran, with Israel using sabotage, assassination and drone strikes to target Iran’s nuclear program and its conventional weapons capabilities, and Iran arming militias along Israel’s borders.

The people said the Ministry of Defense site that was targeted Sunday was a weapons-production facility. It stands across the street from a site belonging to the Iran Space Research Center, which has been sanctioned by the US for its work on Iran’s ballistic-missile program. The space-research center houses the Institute for Materials and Energy, which conducts research that could be used in the development of drones, missiles, satellites and for testing metals for the nuclear project, said Ronen Solomon, an independent intelligence analyst in Israel.

On Monday, Iranian state media published fragments of the small drones used in the strike. If authentic, the depicted drones are most likely Chinese-made quadcopter drones with limited range that may have been launched from within Iran, given their small size and Isfahan’s location hundreds of miles from its country’s borders, said Tal Beeri, head of the Alma Center Research Department in Israel and a former Israeli military intelligence officer.

“By the way, you can order it online,” Mr. Beeri said of the drones.

The operation early Sunday morning was executed by Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, according to people familiar with discussions about the operation.


-/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

The people familiar with the discussions compared Sunday morning’s operation to an Israeli quadcopter drone strike last year on Iranian drone-production sites in the western city of Kermanshah. In retaliation last March, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fired missiles into the Iraqi Kurdish city of Erbil, alleging that the region housed Mossad operatives who launched the drone attack.

Israel’s strike, which the country’s leadership hasn’t publicly acknowledged, was cheered in Ukraine, where US officials say Russia has used Iranian-made drones to attack civilian infrastructure. Iran on Monday summoned the charge d’affaires of Ukraine’s embassy in Tehran over a tweet by an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“Explosive night in Iran,” tweeted the adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, before indicating Ukraine had warned Iran not to get involved in the conflict with Russia.

Iran has acknowledged that it has supplied drones to Russia, but said the transfer took place before Moscow invaded Ukraine, a claim US officials have disputed.

The drone attack immediately preceded a visit to the Middle East by Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He declined to comment specifically on the attack when asked by reporters.

“I’ll say more generally that for the United States as well as for many of our partners in the region, it is very important that we continue to deal with—and work against, as necessary—the various actions that Iran has engaged in , through the region and beyond the region,” Mr. Blinken said.

In response, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said: “The US administration knows well that the Islamic Republic will give a regrettable and firm response to aggressors.”

Iran hasn’t blamed any country for the attack on the Isfahan site. Iranian officials say two drones exploded after being jammed, while another was shot down, harmlessly hitting the building.

Iran says the Institute for Materials and Energy is used to develop civilian technologies. Mr. Solomon, the intelligence analyst, said its location across the street from a Defense Ministry site indicates its research may also be used to produce advanced weaponry, Mr. Solomon said.

The Iran Space Research Center says on its website that it can conduct reverse engineering, which could be used to copy Russian military technologies passed on to the Iranians, Mr. Solomon said.

“The research group is building the production line for the department of defense,” said Mr. Solomon, the author of the Intelitimes blog who is working on a book about the history of Israel’s decadeslong campaign to foil Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.

Mr. Solomon said he relied on official Iranian documents, such as pictures and video published online from inside the Iran Space Research Center, official information that the organization has published, publicly available academic research and previous intelligence reports in order to build a profile of the facility that was attacked.

Israel’s latest strike comes as Israeli and American officials are discussing new ways to combat Iran’s destabilizing operations, including its deepening military cooperation with Russia.

Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns made an unannounced trip to Israel last week to discuss Iran and other regional issues, according to people familiar with his visit.

Last week, the US and Israel carried out their largest-ever joint military exercise involving more than 7,500 personnel from both countries and a series of scenarios to test their ability to take out air-defense systems and refuel jet planes—both of which could be key elements of a major military strike on Iran.

President Biden’s efforts to resurrect a nuclear containment deal with Iran have come to a standstill, but the US has yet to develop an alternative. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been pushing the US to take a tougher stance against Iran.

Write to Dov Lieber at and Benoit Faucon at

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