NY Times cites officials who say device was smuggled into plant; Tehran lawmakers call for suspension of nuclear talks; US officials don’t know if Iranians will show up in Vienna
A blast at Iran’s Natanz nuclear enrichment facility that has been attributed to Israel was caused by a bomb that was smuggled into the plant and then detonated remotely, The New York Times reported Monday.
The report cited an unnamed intelligence official, without specifying whether they were American or Israeli.
According to the official, the blast took out the primary electrical system as well as its backup.
The claim was apparently confirmed by the former head of Iran’s atomic energy organization in an interview with Iranian state television.Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, Iran’s vice president and head of the country’s Atomic Energy Organization (Ronald Zak/AP)
“From a technical standpoint, the enemy’s plan was rather beautiful,” said Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, now head of the Iranian parliament’s energy committee. “They thought about this and used their experts and planned the explosion so both the central power and the emergency power cable would be damaged.”
Although the extent of the damage remains unknown, the Times said intelligence officials believed it would take many months for the damage to be undone.
However, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, said that emergency power was already restored at the plant and enrichment was continuing, although it was unclear to what level.
“A large portion of the enemy’s sabotage can be restored, and this train cannot be stopped,” he told Iranian media, according to the Times.
The US, Israel’s main security partner, is seeking to reenter the 2015 atomic accord aimed at limiting Tehran’s program so that it cannot pursue a nuclear weapon — a move staunchly opposed by Israel, particularly Netanyahu.
According to the Times, US officials said they did not know if their Iranian counterparts would show up in Vienna on Wednesday when the talks on the agreement were set to resume.
Lawmakers in Tehran have called for the discussions to be suspended, although the US denied Monday that it was involved in the incident at Natanz.FILE: The aftermath of an explosion and a fire at an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at Iran’s Natanz nuclear site, July 5, 2020. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)
An Israeli television report said Monday that the bomb went off Sunday at 4 a.m., when some 1,000 workers were at Natanz. The facility was reportedly evacuated immediately after the blast over fears of further bombs, but no other explosives were found.
The Channel 13 news report, which did not cite a source, said the explosive was placed near the main electricity line at Natanz and that when it detonated, the entire facility stopped functioning. The facility remains nonfunctional, the report said, with the program set back by months.
“All the signs point to this being the worst attack that Iran’s nuclear program has suffered… at the most important Iranian nuclear facility,” said Alon Ben-David, the network’s military analyst.
Natanz has previously been targeted, including by an explosion that rocked the facility last summer, in what was also said to have been an Israeli attack aimed at disrupting uranium enrichment and research at the site. In 2010, the United States and Israel allegedly halted Iran’s nuclear program with the Stuxnet virus, which caused Iranian centrifuges to tear themselves apart, reportedly destroying a fifth of the country’s machines.
Israel is anticipating Iran will respond to the latest attack but not necessarily right away, according to Ben-David. He said such retaliation could come in the form of a cyberattack on civilian infrastructure, an attack on Israeli-owned ships, missile fire from Syria or Yemen, or cruise missile or drone attacks on strategic Israeli targets.
“Yesterday signifies that the faceoff between Israel and Iran has escalated to a higher level,” he said.Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, in an image released on November 5, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)
The network also said Iran may now try to expand its operation at the underground Fordo plant, where it has over 1,000 centrifuges. There were some 6,000 centrifuges at Natanz.
Separately, the Kan public broadcaster reported that advanced centrifuges were damaged in the blast at Natanz. The report, which cited an intelligence source, did not specify which model of centrifuges were targeted. Iran publicly inaugurated the advanced IR-5 and IR-6 centrifuges at the facility on Saturday.
The television reports came after the Iranians downplayed the extent of the attack, with a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran saying Monday that the blast was caused by a “small explosion” but insisting the damage could be quickly repaired.
Iran initially reported a power blackout had hit Natanz on Sunday, a day after it announced it had started up advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges banned under the 2015 deal limiting its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Iran blamed Israel for the attack, calling it an act of “nuclear terrorism,” and has vowed “revenge on the Zionist regime.”