A building after it was damaged by a fire, at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, July 02, 2020. (AP)

By Track Persia

August 7, 2020

Over the last few weeks, Iran has been struck by a series of explosions and fires that targeted its military and nuclear installations. The Iranian regime is not clear about the cause of these incidents which occurred in east and west of Tehran in military bases believed to be part of Iran’s missile programme, in addition to others incidents occurred in facilities for medical and electricity generators in Iran’s Ahwaz Province.

One of the significant sites that have been recently targeted is Natanz nuclear plant in the Iranian city of Isfahan. Following the incident, the regime issued conflicting statements about the cause of the fires. However, what is clear is that the fire which was caused by a huge explosion inside the warehouse of the nuclear plant caused severe damage to the nuclear programme and compromised the centrifuges process which is a major factor of speeding up the threshold of making a nuclear bomb.

The regime has accused Israel and the United States of being behind the incidents. These Iranian accusations have not been challenged by Israel whose Defence Minster Benny Gantz did not deny or confirm his country’s responsibility when asked about the incident. Gantz said that Israel was not necessarily behind all incidents occur in Iran. For his part, Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said that Iran should not be allowed to have a nuclear programme.

The conflict between Iran on one hand and the United States and Israel on the other hand begun after Iran decided to increase its nuclear activities in response to the US sanctions in May 2018 and the withdrawal of the United States from Iran nuclear deal which is known as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA). In an attempt to face the US maximum pressure and because the European powers have been reluctant to resolve the differences between Iran and the United States, Tehran decided to reduce its nuclear obligations by increasing its uranium enrichment.

Against this backdrop, Israel has been concerned about the Iranian threat to its existence, therefore it has sent a few messages to Tehran that it might be behind the incidents targeted Iranian nuclear facilities, stressing through its foreign minister Ashkenazi that its goal is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. At the same time, Tel Aviv and it would rather not to talk about what it has done to prevent that. In the same vein, Tel Aviv announced that it had launched a new spying satellite capable of improving monitoring Iran’s nuclear activities.

For his part, the American Stratfor website said that Tel Aviv was likely responsible for the blast occurred in Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant on July 2, and it was possibly behind other similar incidents near the capitol Tehran over the past two weeks, including the blast of Khujer missile complex in Parchin military facility east of Tehran on June 26. Although Tel Aviv has not claimed responsibility, possible motivations and previous similar actions which occurred inside Iran indicate that Tel Aviv is most likely behind such incidents.

Additionally, the recent blasts and fires that targeted important nuclear facilities in Iran carry the hallmarks of Israel. Under Israel’s Menachem Begin administration,  similar pre-emptive attacks targeted an Iraqi nuclear reactor in Baghdad in 1981 and a Syrian nuclear reactor in Deir Ezzor in 2007. Therefore possible attacks on Iran’s nuclear programme plants by Israel are not unprecedented and they could be the last in a series of Israeli pre-emptive attacks against regional targets which Tel Aviv has not claimed responsibility.

If the reports that claim Israel is behind the recent attacks against Iranian nuclear facilities are correct, the question is how has Tel Aviv carried out the attacks inside Iran?

Interestingly, these attacks coincided with the launch of the Israeli Ofek-16 reconnaissance satellite which is aimed to monitor Iran’s nuclear activities and other activities considered to be potential threats to Israel in the region. The recent incidents are also suspected to be cyber attacks similar to the American-Israeli Stuxnet virus that destroyed thousands of centrifuges in Iran’s Natanz in 2010 in the city of Isfahan which is located in the centre of the country. Despite this nuclear plant is at depth about 8 meters underground with an area of 100 thousand square meters. The nuclear plant is considered to be Iran’s most important nuclear plant as it was capable of operating 50 thousand centrifuges. Following the attack on this nuclear plant in 2010that was carried out through manipulating the speed of its centrifuges, Iranian scientists thought it was a human or a technical fault.  The nuclear plant was attacked again on July 2, 2020, and these repeated incidents prompted Iranian officials to announce that these incidents did not happen by no cause. Kiwan Khosravi, a spokesman for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council has said that some of these incidents including the Natanz incident, were not an ordinary incident. While Iran’s Spokesman for Foreign Ministry, Abbas Mousavi, on July 13, pointed out that there might be an organisation or a state behind the Natanz incident.

It is worth mentioning that Israel possesses the fifth generation of F35 jets which are the most advanced version that have stealth characteristics for infiltrating missions and a flying range of up to 2,200 Km. This means that these jets do not need to be refuelled if they fly within this distance range. Having said that, for the Israeli jets to carry out missions targeting Iranian nuclear plants as Natanz,  they need to fly about 2000 Km away from Israel. Consequently, they need to have external support which is most likely provided by one of the American bases in the region.

The Iranian regime is still not clear about the causes of series of explosions and fires, despite some of its officials such as spokesmen for  Foreign Ministry spokesman and Supreme National Security Council have given conflicting statements. This Iranian stance can be attributed to the fact that Tehran is want to avoid escalation before the general elections in the United States which are scheduled for November 2020. Similarly, Iran is suffering from an unprecedented economic crisis because of the US sanctions and the widespread of coronavirus in the country. The Iranian regime must have realised that any reaction from its part will benefit the United States and its allies and it might also force the Europeans to stand with the United States, especially because the Europeans are under growing pressure from the United States to change their current stance towards Iran. Moreover, Tehran is more concerned about lifting the sanctions since these sanctions will end and discussed by the Security Council in October.

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.