Iranian special services have established the identity of a person who was involved in the sabotage attack at the Natanz nuclear facility, an official from the intelligence ministry told Nour News agency on Monday. The identity of the person who disrupted the operation of the power grid at Natanz, as a result of which the electricity supply to a hall was interrupted, has been established, Nour News reported, citing the official. According to Nour News, an effort to detain the malefactor is ongoing.
An explosion occurred at a uranium enrichment plant in Natanz, in Isfahan province in central Iran on 11 April. Iran’s underground nuclear facility lost power Sunday just hours after starting up new advanced centrifuges capable of enriching uranium faster, the latest incident to strike the site amid negotiations over the tattered atomic accord with world powers. Power at Natanz was cut across the facility, which is comprised of above-ground workshops and underground enrichment halls, civilian nuclear program spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told Iranian state television.
“We still do not know the reason for this electricity outage and have to look into it further,” Kamalvandi said. “Fortunately, there was no casualty or damage and there is no particular contamination or problem.” Asked if it was a “technical defect or sabotage,” Kamalvandi declined to comment.
Malek Shariati Niasar, a Tehran-based lawmaker who serves as spokesman for the Iranian parliament’s energy committee, wrote on Twitter that the incident was “very suspicious,” raising concerns about possible “sabotage and infiltration.” He said lawmakers were pursuing details of the incident. The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iran’s program, said it was “aware of the media reports,” but declined to comment.
Officials in the Islamic republic immediately classified the accident as an “act of nuclear terrorism” and said Tehran reserves the right to respond, but did not specify who was responsible and how Iran may react.
“The act against the Natanz nuclear enrichment centre shows the defeat of the opponents of the country’s industrial and political advancements in preventing the nuclear industry’s significant development,” Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), said on Sunday.
Later on Sunday The New York Times reported, citing unnamed sources within US and Israeli intelligence, that the incident was caused by a “deliberately planned explosion”. The newspaper also claimed that the Natanz incident was a “classified Israeli operation”.
Foreign Minister Javad Zarif reportedly warned that Iran should not fall into “Israel’s trap” and compromise its negotiating position in Vienna, where Tehran and Washington are trying to find a way to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal. Israeli officials “have clearly said that they will not allow progress to be made in lifting the sanctions, and now they think they are achieving their goal,” the minister said, as cited by Iranian media. “But Zionists will get their response in further nuclear progress.”
Zarif was referring to indirect talks between the US and Iran on how the two nations can return to full compliance with the Obama-era agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Under it, Iran agreed to restrict its nuclear program in exchange for relief of economic sanctions and business opportunities. Zarif has blamed Israel on Monday for the sabotage of the Natanz nuclear site.
“The Zionists want to take revenge because of our progress in the way to lift sanctions … they have publicly said that they will not allow this. But we will take our revenge from the Zionists,” Zarif was quoted as saying by state TV.
According to Zarif, Israel “has publicly announced that it will not allow us to make progress in lifting restrictions, and it believes that it has succeeded in it.” Israel appeared to confirm claims that it was behind a cyber-attack on Iran’s main nuclear facility on Sunday, which Tehran’s nuclear energy chief described as an act of terrorism that warranted a response against its perpetrators.
As Iranian authorities scrambled to deal with a large-scale blackout at Natanz, which the country’s Atomic Energy Agency acknowledged had damaged the electricity grid at the site, the Israeli defence chief, Aviv Kochavi, said the country’s “operations in the Middle East are not hidden from the eyes of the enemy”.
“By virtue of clever operational activities, the past year was one of the most secure years that the citizens of the State of Israel have known,” Kohavi said. “We will continue to act, combining power and discretion, determination and responsibility – all of this to guarantee the security of the State of Israel.”
Israel imposed no censorship restrictions on coverage as it had often done after similar previous incidents and the apparent attack was widely covered by Israeli media. Public radio took the unusual step of claiming that the Mossad intelligence agency had played a central role.
Earlier, Israeli state broadcaster Kan Radio stated, citing anonymous intelligence sources, that the Israeli Mossad (Tel Aviv’s intelligence arm) had hit the Natanz site with a cyberattack. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at an Independence Day event on Sunday with the heads of the security branches, said: “The struggle against Iran and its proxies and the Iranian armament efforts is a huge mission.”
In a possible reference to the reported Mossad operation taking the uranium enrichment machines off-line within hours of their launch, he said: “The situation that exists today will not necessarily be the situation that will exist tomorrow.”
The strike on Iran’s key Natanz nuclear facility was prepared long before the ongoing Vienna nuclear talks between Iran and the world powers, The Jerusalem Post learned. Although it is quite possible that the exact timing of the attack, which is being widely attributed to Israel either as a physical or cyberattack, was eventually given a final green light to set the Islamic Republic back at the negotiating table, the operation itself was in the works long before.
At the time the operation was planned, it was still unclear exactly when and if the US and Iran would return to serious negotiations regarding a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, though it has been known for a long time that this was the professed intention of US President Joe Biden.