Protests, Fires and Explosions Rock Iran

A Twitter campaign launched by Iranians on Tuesday prompted major protests against the government in at least two cities on Thursday, including Behbahan, in the province of Khuzestan, southwest Iran.

The Twitter campaign opposed the Iranian judiciary’s decision to uphold death sentences on three people arrested for involvement in protests against the government in November 2019.

Iranian authorities have responded by blocking Internet access so as to disrupt attempts to organize further protests.

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These protests come amid an ongoing problem with fires and explosions around Iran; the latest being a fire in a shipyard in the southwestern port of Bushehr on Wednesday, that damaged at least seven ships. State-controlled media broadcast scenes of firefighters tackling the fires amid clouds of smoke.

This is the latest in a series of incidents over the last three months that have damaged important sites in Iran, including nuclear facilities, oil refineries, power plants, and large factories.

Earlier this month the BBC listed six incidents in an article which asked the question: What is behind mysterious fires at key sites?

One analyst suggests Iran may be facing a series of sabotage attacks intended to set back its nuclear program – this being an opportune time given the collapse of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal.

A US official claimed that Iran has put some of its air defense batteries on high alert, as a result of the chain of incidents – presumably suspecting air strikes by Israel or the USA.

The high alert order is not thought to be part of a military exercise and means the air defense batteries are prepared to fire at anything that looks like a threat.

Others suspect the Israelis of carrying out cyber-attacks against Iran. Just yesterday, Israel reported another cyber-attack on its own water distribution system. Agricultural water pumps in the Upper Galilee and drainage facilities in the centre of the country were targeted.

Local authorities were reported to have repaired the equipment quickly, preventing the attack from having any real effect.

Even amid the severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, these incidents at important facilities in both counties could overshadow the health situation. The Israelis are particularly angry about their civilian infrastructure being targeted.