A senior Iranian general was killed Saturday in a munitions blast at a base housing the country's elite Revolutionary Guards. A total of 17 soldiers were killed and 16 more injured and admitted to hospital, with at least one of the injured believed to be in a critical condition.

Maj. Gen. Hassan Moqaddam was responsible for industrial research aimed at ensuring self-sufficiency of the Revolutionary Guards' armaments.

The guards were set up after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and have since been tasked with defending their country against both internal and external threats. They are in charge of the Islamic Republic's missile program, including the Shahab-3 missiles which have a range of 1,200 miles and are therefore capable of striking targets inside Israel.

The explosion occurred at a time when there is considerable strain in relationships between Iran and the U.S., Israel and other Western powers. The source of this tension was highlighted by a report from the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency released last week, which stated that Iran had experimented with removing the conventional warhead on the Shahab-3 and replacing it with one that could hold a nuclear device, among other suspicious activities.

Iranian officials sought to downplay the blast and denied it could have any connection with either the country's advanced ballistic missile arsenal or its controversial nuclear program. They swore the explosion was an accident that occurred when troops were moving ammunition from the depot to a storage site.

The blast happened during the transportation of [conventional] ammunition, said Gen. Ramazan Sharif, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Press Chief.

In other developments, over the past weeks Israeli officials have warned Iran of the possibility of military strikes against its nuclear sites. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to convince his Cabinet to back military strikes, saying that a nuclear-armed Iran would be an existential threat to the Jewish state. The U.S. has also weighed in, calling a nuclear Iran was unacceptable.