Middle East Eye

  In Middle East Eye 

Iran accuses Israel of ‘terrorism’ over nuclear sabotage, says has identified suspect

Iran on Monday said it had identified a person responsible for disrupting the flow of power to Natanz nuclear facility in a sabotage operation widely attributed to Israel.

Iran’s Nournews website quoted intelligence sources as saying authorities were now seeking that person’s arrest.

The Sunday attack on Natanz, which remains nonoperational, has rocked Iran a week after it finally began negotiations with the United States over returning to the 2015 nuclear deal. Ali Akbar Salehi, the country’s nuclear chief, described it as an act of “nuclear terrorism”.

On Monday, Iran’s foreign minister was quoted on state TV vowing Iran would retaliate.

“The Zionists want to take revenge because of our progress in the way to lift sanctions,” Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said. “They have publicly said that they will not allow this. But we will take our revenge from the Zionists.”

Israel’s Kan public radio cited intelligence sources, whose nationality it did not disclose, as saying that Israel’s Mossad spy agency had carried out a cyber-attack at the site.

There was no official Israeli comment on the incident. But on Sunday, Israeli officials appeared to make several references to Iran.

The Israeli army’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, said the Israeli military’s “operations in the Middle East are not hidden from the eyes of the enemy”, according to Associated Press. “They are watching us, seeing [our] abilities and weighing their steps with caution.”

While at a meeting with US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said Israel viewed America as an ally against all threats facing them, including from Iran.

“The Tehran of today poses a strategic threat to international security, to the entire Middle East and to the state of Israel,” Gantz said, according to AP. “And we will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world, of the United States, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region, and protect the state of Israel.”

The spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation (AEOI) said on Sunday that a problem with the electrical distribution grid of the Natanz site had caused an incident, Iranian media reported.

The spokesman, Behrouz Kamalvandi, said the incident caused no casualties or contamination. Iranian media later reported that Kamalvandi had an accident while visiting the Natanz site, “suffering a broken head and leg”. The reports did not elaborate on the cause of the accident.

The facility, located in the desert in the central province of Isfahan, is the centrepiece of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme and is monitored by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog.

“While condemning this despicable move, Iran emphasises the need for the international community and the International Atomic Energy Agency to deal with this nuclear terrorism and reserves the right to take action against the perpetrators,” Salehi said. He did not elaborate.

Israel, which has accused Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons that could be used against it, made no official comment on the incident. It took place a day after Tehran, which has denied it seeks atomic arms, started new advanced enrichment centrifuges at Natanz.

In July last year, a fire broke out at the facility, which Iran said was an attempt to sabotage the country’s nuclear programme.

In 2010, the Stuxnet computer virus, widely believed to have been developed by the United States and Israel, was discovered after it was used to attack Natanz.

The incident at the Natanz facility comes amid efforts by Tehran and Washington to revive Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers after former US President Donald Trump abandoned it three years ago. Trump reimposed sanctions that had been lifted on the Islamic Republic under the deal and brought in many more.

In reaction to the US sanctions, Iran has gradually breached many restrictions imposed by the accord. The two nations laid out tough stances at indirect talks in Vienna last week on how to bring both back into full compliance with the deal.

Austin has not commented specifically on Iran during his visit to Israel, the first of a Biden administration official. Israeli officials have long threatened last-ditch military action against Iran if they deem foreign diplomacy a dead end.

Iran-Israel tensions

“The action taken against the Natanz site shows the failure of the opposition to Iran’s industrial and political progress to prevent the significant development of Iran’s nuclear industry,” Salehi said.

“To thwart the goals of those who commanded this terrorist act … Iran will continue to improve its nuclear technology on the one hand and to lift oppressive US sanctions on the other hand,” he said.

Iran has blamed Israel for last year’s killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was seen by Western intelligence services as the mastermind of a covert Iranian nuclear weapons programme.

Tehran has denied seeking to build a nuclear bomb.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the killing, though Mossad sources acknowledged their involvement to the New York Times.

President Hassan Rouhani reiterated Iran’s commitment to nuclear non-proliferation on Saturday while overseeing the launch of advanced centrifuges at the Natanz plant to mark the country’s National Nuclear Technology Day.