Iran has admitted that an incident at one of its major nuclear sites in the past week has done great damage and could slow down the production of advanced centrifuges in the country. The technology, which Israel and the United States view as a threat, increases suspicion that the facility may have been deliberately attacked.
The picture was taken when newly released satellite images showed that the damage that the Iranian authorities attributed to a fire at the Natanz nuclear power plant was far more extensive than before.
A satellite image released by the London-based Iranian news agency Iran International shows most of the building where the Thursday morning incident occurred, blown away and blackened with burn marks and debris scattered around the circumference, suggesting one large explosion indicates.
The Iranian authorities initially said a fire had broken out in an “industrial shed”
Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for the Iranian Atomic Energy Agency, appeared to confirm this theory on Sunday, notifying the Islamic Republic’s state news agency that the fire could slow the development and production of advanced centrifuges in Tehran in the medium term.Iran would tell the damaged building by a larger one replace more advanced equipment.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the UN Security Council last Tuesday that Iran’s advanced centrifuges would allow the country to enrich uranium up to 50 times faster than is currently possible.
The incident in Natanz was followed by two more obvious industrial accidents on Saturday, which, together with fires and explosions at other locations, triggered speculation that the country would be attacked by an organized, state-sponsored sabotage campaign.
Israeli cabinet officials spoke publicly about the rumors for the first time on Sunday. Neither Defense Minister Benny Gantz nor Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi confirmed an Israeli role, not even in the recent fire in a power plant in the south-west of the country on Saturday. However, her careful statements did little to dispel the suspicion that at least some of the incidents were not accidents.
“Not every incident in Iran is necessarily related to us,” Gantz told Israel Radio on Sunday morning. “All of these systems are complex, they have very high security restrictions and I’m not sure [the Iranians] always knows how to care for them. “
When asked about Natanz, Ashkenazi said at a forum in Jerusalem that Israel has a long-term policy that does not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, adding, “It is better not to mention our actions in Iran.”
Analysts said it was likely that at least some of the incidents were accidents caused by poor infrastructure maintenance. However, at least two incidents occurred at strategic locations: an explosion on June 26 in a suspected missile production facility east of Tehran and the fire or explosion at Natanz.
After the Trump administration resigned from a nuclear deal with Iran and other countries in May 2018 and again imposed sanctions on the Iranian economy, Tehran announced it would develop advanced centrifuges that would allow uranium to be enriched at weapon level faster – though internationally Inspectors say this has stopped producing such fuel.
Damage at the Natanz site would likely have “pretty much affected” work on the new generation of centrifuges, said Fabian Hinz, a research assistant at the James Martin Center for Non-Proliferation Studies in California. “Assembling, balancing, calibrating and testing centrifuges is a very complex process that requires special equipment [the damage] will definitely delay their work, ”he said.
Keyvan Khosravi, a spokesman for the Iranian National Security Council, said Friday to a state-owned media company that experts “had identified the root cause of the incident” and would explain it “for security reasons in due course.”
BBC Farsi service journalists said they had received a statement prior to the damage announcement, alleging responsibility for a group called “cheetahs of the home country” made up of dissatisfied Iranians within the defense company .
When asked about Natanz and the other incidents on Thursday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Of course we cannot go into that.”
The Natanz site was first targeted in 2007 by a cyber warfare campaign called the Olympic Games, which included using the Stuxnet computer virus, which encrypted the code and destroyed at least hundreds of centrifuges. Israel and the United States were the architects of the operation.
According to Yigal Unna, director general of Israel’s National Cyber Directorate, Israel thwarted a large-scale cyber attack this year that attempted to damage and potentially infect parts of the country’s water supply.
He did not name Iran as a suspect, but said in May: “If [the attack] had been successful, and luckily we managed to thwart and prevent it, but if the bad guys had successfully completed their conspiracy, in the middle of the corona crisis, we would face great damage to civilians, water shortages, and worse. “