Iran blamed Israel on Monday for an incident at the Natanz nuclear site in Iran on Sunday, that damaged centrifuges it uses to enrich uranium.
Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI) criticized the incident, calling it a “terrorist action,” according to local media.
Akbar Salehi, chief of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said, “Today’s attack demonstrates that the enemies of Iran’s progress and advancement in nuclear science, as well as nuclear negotiations, are in desperation committing terrorist actions against the nuclear technology at Natanz [nuclear facility].”
While Iran claims its electricity distribution grid was targeted in the cyberattack, the New York Times reported that it was an explosion that led to a blackout in the site. On Sunday, reports in several Israeli media outlets quoted intelligence officials as saying that Israel’s national intelligence agency, Mossad, was responsible for the incident.
The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, addressed Iran on Sunday in a toast to mark the anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel.
Netanyahu neither confirmed nor denied the latest attack. “The struggle against Iran and its proxies and the Iranian armament efforts is a huge mission,” he said. “The situation that exists today will not necessarily be the situation that will exist tomorrow.”
Netanyahu, who met Sunday with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, has vowed to do everything in his power to stop the reviving of the nuclear deal. Austin’s visit is the highest-level visit to Israel by a member of the Biden administration and comes days after talks in Vienna.
Netanyahu repeated his strong opposition this week, saying Israel, “would not be bound by any agreement that paves the way for Iran to develop nuclear weapons.”
Former US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal in 2018 and re-imposed punishing US sanctions on Iran.
The accord was signed in Vienna in 2015 by Iran, China, Russia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the US. The aim was to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear arsenal by imposing strict limits on its nuclear program and forcing it to remain particularly civil and peaceful.
President Joe Biden has promised a return to the nuclear accord, initially called the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan. However, aggravated attacks on Iran might make it less inclined to negotiate.
Officials of the United States were also in Vienna and met with representatives from global powers who are still party to the deal. They did not meet with Iranian officials directly. The Vienna talks are focused not only on lifting the sanctions Trump reimposed, but also on bringing Iran back into compliance.
Iranian officials have maintained the US must lift all Trump-era sanctions and return to the nuclear deal before it again complies with the deal.
ACCIDENT AT NATANZ NUCLEAR PLANT
A spokesman for Iran’s civil nuclear program said Sunday that an “accident” affected the power distribution grid of the Natanz nuclear site.
The plant suffered severe electrical damage, in what Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said was an act of “nuclear terrorism.”
Iranian officials said no one was injured in the attack, and there was no leakage of radioactive material. Israeli media said the damage was more widespread than acknowledged by Iranian authorities.
The attack took place a day after Iran restarted spinning advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges at Natanz, in a breach of its undertakings under the 2015 nuclear deal, days after the start of talks on rescuing the agreement.
The centrifuges could accelerate the production of enriched uranium, which was billed as a pivotal moment in the country’s nuclear program. Saturday marks the 15th anniversary of Iran’s National Nuclear Technology Day.
President Hassan Rouhani launched a cascade of 164 IR-6 centrifuges for developing enriched uranium, as well as two test cascades – 30 each of IR-5 and IR-6S models – at Natanz. “It can provide us with products 10 times more than the former chain,” Rouhani said. The ceremony was broadcast by state television.
State TV did not provide any images of uranium hexafluoride gas injection into the cascades, but broadcast a link with the plant’s engineers, who said they had started the process and showed rows of centrifuges.
Rouhani also began testing on the “mechanical stability” of its latest generation of IR-9 centrifuges, and opened a centrifuge assembly factory from afar to replace a plant badly damaged in last July’s “terrorist” explosion.
Under the 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers, Tehran is permitted only to use “first generation” IR-1 centrifuges for production, and to test a limited number of IR-4 and IR-5 devices.
Since January, Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 20% purity has increased to 55kg, moving the country closer to weapons-grade levels.
Tehran denies that it is pursuing nuclear weapons and says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. Iran has blamed Israel for the recent attacks.
This is not the first time the Natanz nuclear site has been targeted. The Natanz facility was also affected by the fire in July last year, which Iran described as an attempt to sabotage its nuclear program.
The Stuxnet computer virus, widely believed to have been developed by Washington and Jerusalem, was discovered after it was used to attack Natanz in 2010.
Iran has also blamed Israel for the murder of nuclear scientist Mohsin Fakhrizadeh last year, who believed the Western intelligence services were the mastermind of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons program.
IRAN CONDEMNS THE ATTACK
Details about the incident that happened early on Sunday, remained scarce. The incident was primarily described as a blackout happened because of the electrical grid feeding its above-ground workshops and underground enrichment halls.
“The answer for Natanz is to take revenge against Israel,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said. “Israel will receive its answer through its own path.” He did not elaborate.
Khatibzadeh accepted that IR-1 centrifuges, the first-generation workhorse of Iran’s uranium enrichment, had been damaged in the explosion. However, he did not elaborate. State television has yet to show images from the facility.
A former head of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard said the attack opened fire on the site and called for improved security. In a tweet, General Mohsen Rezaei said that the second attack at Natanz in a year signalled “the seriousness of the infiltration phenomenon.” Rezaei gave no details about this information.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif separately warned that Natanz would be rebuilt with more advanced machines. This would allow Iran to speed up enrichment of uranium, complicating talks on the deal.
“The Zionists wanted to take revenge against the Iranian people for their success on the path of lifting sanctions,” Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency quoted Zairf as saying. “But we do not allow (it), and we will take revenge for this action against the Zionists.”