DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran accused Israel on Thursday of trying to sabotage its ballistic missile program through faulty foreign parts that could explode, damaging or destroying the weapons before they could be used.
The Israeli prime minister's office declined to comment on the allegation, though it comes amid a yearslong effort by both Israel and the U.S. to target Iran. A reporter also said the parts could be used in Iran's extensive arsenal of drones, which have grown in prominence amid their use by Russia in its war on Ukraine.
The report described the alleged Israeli operation as “one of the biggest attempts at sabotage” it had ever seen. It accused Israeli Mossad agents of supplying the faulty parts, which the state TV report described as low-price “connectors."
Footage aired by state TV showed the alleged parts, some of them popping up into the air, as if affected by an explosive.
The pieces shown in the television report appeared to be military-style, high-density circular electrical connectors. Such connectors can be used to attach electronic components of a missile or a drone, such as its guidance computer, and pass both electricity and signals. Video released by Iran in the past showed missile scientists working with similar connectors.
“This was planted in a part called the connector, which is responsible for connecting the (computer) network of Iranian-made ballistic missiles, as well as drones," state television military correspondent Younes Shadloo said in the report. "Apparently the part contained a modified explosive kit planted in it and was timed to explode at a certain time.”
The state TV report did not explain why Iran sought to purchase the connectors abroad, though some Iranian websites advertising such connectors suggest that Russian-made ones were the best in the market. Russia faces international sanctions over its war on Ukraine, which has seen its own supply of electronics needed for missile systems challenged.
Iranian-made drones used by Russia in the war also use circular connectors, according to reports by experts who have torn down the weapons.
The TV broadcast did not say when authorities discovered the faulty parts, nor if they had been installed in any ballistic missile prior. In May 2022, an explosion at a major Iranian military and weapons development base east of Tehran called Parchin killed an engineer and wounded another. Other blasts have struck as well, including failures in Iran's space program that the U.S. has long criticized as advancing Tehran's ballistic missile program.
The New York Times in 2019 reported the U.S. under then-President Donald Trump had accelerated a sabotage program targeting Iran's missile and rocket program that dated back to the administration of President George W. Bush. Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, a hard-line force answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, oversees the country's ballistic missile arsenal.
Fabian Hinz, a missile expert and research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies who examined the state TV footage of the parts, said the circular connectors “are used in almost every type of ballistic missile.”
“It’s quite likely Iran purchases these connectors from abroad,” Hinz said. “This is not the first time Iran is talking about components being tampered with to sabotage the missile program.”
Israel also has been suspected in a series of targeted slayings of nuclear scientists in Iran. Sabotage attacks also have damaged Iranian nuclear sites.
The Stuxnet computer virus in the late 2000s also attacked control units for uranium centrifuges, causing the sensitive devices to spin out of control and destroy themselves. Experts widely attribute the attack to America and Israel, as does Iran.
Associated Press writers Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, and Julia Frankel in Jerusalem contributed to this report.