President Donald Trump said the US played no role in the explosion of an Iranian missile on its launchpad Thursday, tweeting what appeared to be a photograph of the site with labels describing the damage.
The explosion came just days after Trump said he’d be willing to meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani under the “correct” circumstances, and following French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to invite Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, to join other leaders on the sidelines of the Group of Seven summit in Biarritz last weekend.
Tensions between the US and Iran have escalated since the president abandoned the 2015 multilateral deal to stem the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. In June, Trump abruptly called off planned airstrikes against Iran in retaliation for the shooting down of a US Navy drone over the Strait of Hormuz.
The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran. I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One. pic.twitter.com/z0iDj2L0Y3— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 30, 2019
The president told reporters at the White House on Friday evening that he had the authority to release the photo of the launch pad. “We had a photo and I released it, which I have the absolute right to do,” Trump said.
He also reiterated that the US wasn’t involved in the explosion.
“They were going to set off a big missile and it didn’t work out too well,” he said. “Had nothing to do with us.”
Dave Schmerler of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies told NPR that images suggest that a space vehicle was being launched from the Imam Khomeini Space Center in the northern part of the country.
“So Iran tried and failed to launch a satellite today,” Schmerler remarked on Twitter.
Little is known about the explosion -- an Iranian official quoted by Reuters cited only “technical issues” as the cause -- and the Islamic Republic’s secretive authorities are unlikely to provide further details. But the episode recalls events in the shadow campaign by Israel and the US to undercut the Iran’s nuclear and missile programs -- as well as its ambitions of becoming a great power in the Middle East.
Early this week, Israel announced that its air force had destroyed what it called “killer drones” in Syria that Iran was readying for an attack on Israeli territory. Iran denied that its operations had been hit in Syria, according to the state news agency ILNA.
Such admissions are rare. Neither Israel nor the US responded to allegations that they were behind the Stuxnet computer worm that ruined about 1,000 centrifuges at an Iranian nuclear facility about a decade ago. The Tehran government has accused Israel of orchestrating the assassinations of several Iranian nuclear scientists.
There have been casualties on both sides of the secret conflict: Israel pointed the finger at Iran after terrorist attacks on Israeli targets in other countries.
Iran, too, has its own hackers, and some of them recently came close to infiltrating Israel’s missile warning system, according to the Israeli chief of cyber defense.