On Monday, Iran blamed Israel for a sabotage attack on its underground Natanz nuclear plant, which destroyed centrifuges, jeopardising ongoing talks over Tehran’s shattered nuclear agreement and bringing a shadow war between the two countries into the open.
The attack has been blamed on Israel, but no one has taken responsibility. It only does so in the case of operations carried out by its secret armed forces or the Mossad intelligence agency. The Israeli media, on the other hand, widely claimed that the country had engineered a crippling cyberattack that resulted in a nuclear power plant blackout.
Although the nature of the attack and the extent of the damage in Natanz are still unknown, a former Iranian official stated that the attack caused a fire, and a spokesman reported a “possible minor explosion.”
The assault has strained ties between the United States, which is currently negotiating in Vienna to re-enter the nuclear agreement under President Joe Biden, and Israel, whose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to block the deal at all costs.
Netanyahu met with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday, whose arrival in Israel was timed to coincide with the first news of the attack. The two gave a short interview to journalists but did not take any questions.
Netanyahu said, “My policy as Prime Minister of Israel is clear: I will never allow Iran to acquire nuclear capability in order to carry out its genocidal mission of destroying Israel.” “Israel will also continue to protect itself against Iranian aggression and terrorism,” he said.
Austin refused to say whether the Natanz attack would jeopardise the Biden administration’s attempts to re-engage Iran on its nuclear programme at an earlier news conference at Israel’s Nevatim air base on Monday.
Austin said, “Those efforts will continue.” The previous US administration, headed by Donald Trump, had pulled out of the nuclear agreement with world powers, prompting Iran to drop its obligations.
What happened early Sunday at the facility was still a mystery. The blackout in the electrical grid that feeds above-ground workshops and underground enrichment halls was initially identified as a blackout, but Iranian officials later referred to it as an assault.
The attack also set off a fire at the site, according to a former leader of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, who called for increased security. Gen. Mohsen Rezaei said in a tweet that the second attack in a year at Natanz demonstrated “the severity of the infiltration phenomenon.” Rezaei did not reveal the source of his knowledge.
“The response to Natanz is vengeance against Israel,” said Saeed Khatibzadeh, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry. “Israel will get its response on its own terms.” He didn’t go into detail.
The first-generation workhorse of Iran’s uranium enrichment, the IR-1 centrifuges, were destroyed in the attack, but Khatibzadeh did not elaborate. Photos from the site have yet to be broadcast on state television.
However, the facility appeared to be in such disarray following the attack that Behrouz Kamalvandi, a prominent nuclear spokesman, dropped 7 metres (23 feet) through an open ventilation shaft covered in aluminium waste, crushing both of his legs and injuring his head.
“A suspected minor explosion strewn debris,” Kamalvandi said, without going into further detail.
Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, cautioned that Natanz would be rebuilt with more modern machinery. This would allow Iran to enrich uranium more rapidly, complicating the nuclear talks.
Zairf was quoted by Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency as saying, “The Zionists wanted to take revenge against the Iranian people for their success on the road of lifting sanctions.” “However, we will not tolerate it, and we will exact retaliation against the Zionists.”
According to Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s civilian nuclear programme, officials began an attempt on Monday to provide emergency power to Natanz. He didn’t elaborate about why the sabotage hadn’t prevented enrichment there.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, which oversees Tehran’s nuclear programme, had previously stated that it was aware of media stories about the Natanz blackout and had spoken with Iranian officials about it. The agency did not provide any additional details.
In the past, sabotage has been attempted against Natanz. During an earlier time of Western concerns about Tehran’s programme, the Stuxnet computer virus, discovered in 2010, and generally believed to be a joint US-Israeli development, disrupted and destroyed Iranian centrifuges there.
In July, a mysterious explosion occurred at Natanz’s advanced centrifuge assembly facility, which authorities later attributed to sabotage. Iran is currently re-constructing the facility deep inside a nearby mountain. Iran also blamed Israel, as well as the November assassination of a physicist who started the country’s military nuclear programme decades ago.
In neighbouring Syria, Israel has conducted a series of airstrikes against Iranian forces and facilities. Israel is also accused of attacking an Iranian cargo ship off the coast of Yemen last week, which is said to be used as a floating base for Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard forces.
Several Israeli news outlets claimed on Sunday that the blackout was triggered by an Israeli cyberattack, but it’s still unclear what happened. The Mossad, according to public broadcaster Kan, was behind the attack. According to “experts,” the attack shut down whole parts of the facility, according to Channel 12 TV.
Despite the fact that the stories did not cite any sources, Israeli media has a strong relationship with the country’s military and intelligence agencies.
The blackout, according to Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies, “is difficult for me to believe it’s a coincidence.” “If it isn’t a coincidence, which is a major if, someone is attempting to send a message that says, ‘We can restrict Iran’s advance and we have red lines.’”
He added that it also sends a message that Iran’s most sensitive nuclear site is vulnerable.
On the eve of Israel’s Independence Day, Netanyahu toasted his security chiefs, with the president of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen, by his side.
Netanyahu has repeatedly portrayed Iran as a major threat to Israel in recent weeks, as he tries to maintain control after several elections and while facing corruption allegations.