CAIRO - Several oil facility fires have occurred in Iran's southwestern Ahvaz region during the past 48 hours, Arab media reported Saturday. The reports came on the heels of a massive oil refinery fire this week in the capital, Tehran.
The fires followed the suspicious sinking of Iran's largest naval ship, the Kharg, earlier in the week.
The string of fires and the sinking of the ship caused speculation among Arab media and internationally based Persian news channels that Israel might have been behind the incidents. Iran, however, said both events were "accidents."
London-based Iran analyst Ali Nourizadeh told VOA that he thought the latest fires in Ahvaz probably weren't acts of sabotage, because there are oil field fires in Ahvaz every summer. The sinking of the Kharg and the Tehran refinery fire, he argued, probably were sabotage, despite Iranian government denials.
The Tehran refinery, Nourizadeh said, "was not a natural fire. It was very precise, very detailed and the damage is huge. Actually, they have to rebuild the refinery because most of the parts were destroyed."
Poor economic conditions
Nourizadeh added that the economic situation inside Iran "has never been worse since [the Iranian revolution in] 1979." One of the big problems, he said, is that the Islamic Republic "has put incompetent people with no technical experience in charge of oil facilities and other major infrastructure."
Mehrdad Khonsari, a former Iranian diplomat, told VOA that the Iranian government probably denied that any of the recent events was sabotage because it was embarrassed to admit that it is unable to protect its critical infrastructure.
"The regime is obviously quiet and does not point any fingers because it would harm the regime's interests to say that it is unable to safeguard its installations," Khonsari said, "but suspicions are that Israeli hands are most likely behind this."
Khonsari stressed that "no one has confirmed who, if anyone, may have been behind these apparent acts of sabotage," but that a number of countries have an interest in signaling to Iran that its own aggressive behavior will no longer be tolerated without some sort of reciprocal attacks.
"There are many parties interested in indicating to the Iranians that what they do in the region and against other parties — such as supplying rockets that get fired over Israel, or knocking out an oil installation, as was the case with the Saudis, or damaging [Israeli] ships with limpets [mines] in the Persian Gulf — that there's cost attached to that," he said.
Khonsari said he spoke with a former captain of the Kharg, which sank, or was sunk, in Omani waters, and he noted that a ship like the Kharg would not have sunk "unless it was hit by a torpedo or other explosive device from under water." He said that "limits the number of countries with the capabilities of undertaking such an act."