Iran Blames Israel for Attack on Nuclear Site and Vows Revenge

Iran blamed Israel for an attack at its largest uranium enrichment plant, raising geopolitical tensions around Iran’s nuclear program even as diplomats try to revive the international accord that contained it.

“Various sources have confirmed Israel was behind the attack” on the power network at the Natanz facility in central Iran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said at a news conference on Monday. Some of Iran’s standard IR-1 centrifuges were damaged, but it is too soon to assess how badly, he said, without giving further details of the assault.

“Iran will take revenge upon Israel for the Natanz incident,” Khatibzadeh said. In a letter to the United Nations, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called for international condemnation of the attack and for culprits to be held to account, adding that Iran would respond by increasing developments in its nuclear activity.

Power was cut off to the site, but that didn’t disrupt enrichment operations and the plant is still running on emergency electricity backup, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s atomic energy agency, said, according to state-run IRIB news. The main power supply will be restored in coming days, he said.

A senior Iranian lawmaker and prominent nuclear scientist said he had been briefed on the incident and it entailed an explosion at an electricity station at Natanz, about 40 to 50 meters (131 to 164 feet) underground.

“From a technical standpoint, the enemy’s plan was rather beautiful,” Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, a former head of Iran’s atomic energy organization and now head of parliament’s energy commission, told state TV, adding that it may have taken five to 10 years to engineer the attack.

One person responsible for the blackout has been identified and is being sought for arrest, semi-official Nour News reported, citing an official in the Ministry of Intelligence it didn’t identify.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility, as is its practice in such cases.

“My policy as prime minister of Israel is clear: I will never allow Iran to obtain the nuclear capability to carry out its genocidal goal of eliminating Israel, and Israel will continue to defend itself against Iran’s aggression and terrorism,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in Jerusalem alongside visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Sunday’s attack occurred during Austin’s visit and just two days after Iran marked its annual national day of nuclear technology.

In a statement Monday, the White House said it was aware of the reports of the incident at Natanz but added that the U.S. had nothing to do with it and wouldn’t speculate about the causes of the attack. Spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in a separate statement that the incident won’t affect the U.S.’s participation in talks to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Sanam Vakil, deputy head and senior research fellow at Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa program, said she doesn’t think the attack was coordinated with the U.S.

“This would have been counter to the U.S. intent to return to compliance with the nuclear deal,” Vakil said. “I suspect Tehran will attempt to extract further concessions or guarantees from Washington.”

Nuclear talks

The assault underlined the contested status of Iran’s nuclear activities just as diplomacy appeared to be defusing tensions.

On Monday a senior lawmaker said he’d been told the deputy speaker of Iran’s hard-line-controlled parliament, Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, urged Iran to pause negotiations until Israel was punished for the attack, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported.

That would mean canceling talks scheduled for Wednesday in Vienna on how to bring Iran back to full compliance with the curbs on its nuclear program, including restrictions on enrichment at Natanz.

The European Union and Russia warned against attempts to disrupt the talks on the accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, while Qatar condemned the attack.

Natanz and its operations have been the frequent target of assaults. In July 2020, a blast and fire at the site caused “significant damage,” in what officials described as sabotage, without blaming a specific government. The facility’s deputy head of enrichment was assassinated in January 2012, and it was the target of a Stuxnet computer virus in June 2010.

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