The location of a possible crater and the approximate blast and damage area from the explosion and fire at at Iran’s Natanz nuclear site. (Screengrab)
April 15, 2021
The alleged Israeli attack on Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility
targeted an electrical substation located 40 to 50 meters underground and damaged “thousands of centrifuges,” Iranian officials revealed in recent days.
Fereydoon Abbasi-Davani, former head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, told Iranian media on Monday that the attack hit an electrical substation located deep underground and managed to damage both the power distribution system and the cable leading to the centrifuges in order to cut power to them.
The Iranian official stressed that such an operation takes years, saying “the design of the enemy was very beautiful.”
Davani added that the substation was built underground in order to protect it from air and missile strikes, and that the attack was carried out either via cyber, sabotaged equipment or sabotage committed by agents.
The Jerusalem Post has learned that the attack was carried out through an explosive device that was smuggled into the facility and detonated remotely. An intelligence official told The New York Times on Tuesday that the attack took out both the primary and backup electrical systems.
Davani confirmed on Monday that the attack last July was also carried out with explosives that were smuggled into a centrifuge assembly facility at the site, with the explosives embedded in a heavy table that was brought into the facility.
Ali Rabiei, the spokesperson for the Iranian government, stated on Tuesday that the attack was “not an external attack” and that a “traitor” has been identified, adding that “the necessary measures are being taken.”
An informed official in the Iranian Intelligence Ministry told the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency on Monday that the identity of the disruption’s cause had been found and that “necessary measures are being taken to arrest the main cause of the disruption in the electricity system of the Natanz complex.”
Alireza Zakani, head of Iran’s Parliament Research Center, announced in a television interview on Tuesday that “thousands of centrifuges” had been destroyed, damaging “most of the enrichment facilities.”
Zakani additionally claimed that some equipment had been sent abroad and “returned with 300 pounds of explosives,” and that explosives had been placed inside a desk, similar to Davani’s claim about the attack in another facility at Natanz last July.
The parliamentarian expressed outrage that the attack had succeeded and called for uranium enrichment to be increased to 60% in response.
Davani explained that in a similar attack at the Fordow nuclear facility in 2012, power lines from the city of Qom were cut by an explosion, so they had anticipated such an attack and had stored fuel for producing electricity for three months in case such an incident occurred.
The former AEO head, who now serves on the Iranian Parliament’s energy commission, survived an assassination attempt in 2010 in which bombs were attached to the side of his car by men on motorcycles. Another nuclear scientist, Majid Shahriari, was killed in a similar attack the same day. Davani reportedly worked closely with Mohsen Fakhrizadeh
, Iran’s top nuclear scientist, who was killed in an assassination blamed on Israel last year.
Additionally on Monday, Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for the AEO, told Iranian media that he had injured his ankle and head while visiting the Natanz facility after the attack when he fell into a seven-meter-deep hole that had been covered with metal. It is unclear whether the hole was related to the explosion.
Explosive were used to completely destroy the internal power system at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility in an alleged Israel operation, two intelligence officials told The New York Times on Sunday night.
The explosion caused severe damage to the site and it could take at least nine months to restore production at the facility, according to the officials.
The Wall Street Journal said the Biden Administration was given no advance notice about the attack. The White House said on Monday that it was not involved in the attack.
The WSJ report added that destruction of the power supply in the attack could have damaged or destroyed centrifuges by causing them to slow down too rapidly.
A number of former Israeli security officials expressed concern at the leaks being shared about the attack, with former Mossad chief Danny Yatom warning, in an interview with Army Radio on Monday, that it could impact Israel’s operational capability. “If indeed this thing is the result of an operation involving Israel, this leak is very serious,” said Yatom. “It is detrimental to the Israeli interest and the fight against Iranian attempts to acquire nuclear weapons. There are actions that must remain in the dark.”
“Once Israeli officials are quoted, it forces the Iranians to take revenge,” warned Yatom. “If the Iranians start investigating with the publication hovering over their heads that the people behind the attack are the Israelis or the Americans, they will leave no stone unturned. This has an impact on our operational capability.”
IRANIAN OFFICIALS have downplayed the significance of the attack, with several officials stressing that the impacted centrifuges were first-generation machines that would be replaced with more advanced ones.
Iran’s permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Kazem Gharibabadi, claimed on Monday that enrichment had not stopped at Natanz, despite foreign media reports to the contrary.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif complained to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about the attack, calling it “nuclear terrorism and a war crime.”
“Israel’s efforts aimed at preventing the revival of the international nuclear deal JCPOA, after the US presidential elections, was initially reflected in threats, which have now materialized,” said Zarif, according to Iranian media. The foreign minister added that Iran had accelerated its retaliatory measures against US sanctions in response to the attack.
The attack on the Natanz nuclear facility by Israel was a “very bad gamble” which will strengthen Tehran’s hand in talks with major powers to revive the JCPOA nuclear deal, Zarif stated on Tuesday during a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart in Tehran.
Saeed Khatibzadeh, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, stated on Monday that Iran would respond to the attack “in its own time.”
“The regime has been carrying out some actions and some news leaks in the last few months. Its goals are clear and not hidden from the elites and intellectuals of Iran,” added Khatibzadeh. “The foreign minister and our delegation are following up on this issue and actions will be announced today or tomorrow. Some actions will be taken in their undisclosed way [and] may never be said.”
An analysis published in the Iranian Kayhan newspaper, which is tied to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, called for the government to withdraw from the talks on the nuclear deal in Vienna and to punish Israel as a “decisive and deterrent response to the enemy’s sinister plan.”
THIS IS the second attack on Natanz that foreign reports have blamed on Israel within the past year, with an explosion and fire at a facility at the site in July reportedly impacting Iran’s nuclear program significantly. The facility that was struck this week was a new one built at the site to replace the one hit last year.
Iran is still nowhere near having recovered to the point where it had been before that July 2020 explosion in terms of its capacity for assembling new advanced centrifuges, The Jerusalem Post recently reported.
The most recent attack against Natanz took place a day after Iran began injecting uranium hexafluoride gas into advanced IR-6 and IR-5 centrifuges at Natanz and was revealed as US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was visiting Israel.
Tensions are rising between Israel and Iran amid a number of attacks on Iranian and Israeli maritime vessels, with recent reports claiming that Israel has hit dozens of Iranian ships in recent years. Tensions were already high between the two nations after the Fakhrizadeh assassination and reported attempts by Iran to carry out revenge attacks on Israeli embassies around the world.
The report also comes as Iran meets with European and American officials to discuss a possible return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name for the nuclear agreement signed in 2015 between the Islamic Republic and world powers.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned multiple times in the past week that Israel would defend itself against Iranian threats, stressing that Jerusalem would work to combat Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
The prime minister called for the security cabinet’s first meeting in two months next Sunday to discuss Iran amid increased tensions with Tehran.
The Jerusalem Post