The last time centrifuges exploded in Iran’s underground nuclear fuel production center in Natanz, over a decade ago, the sabotage was the result of a joint US cyberattack to prevent Tehran from manufacturing weapons nuclear.
When the centrifuges exploded again this weekend, the White House said there was no Washington involvement.
The operation raised the possibility that Israel acted on its own to undermine U.S. diplomacy at a time when the Biden administration wants to reconstitute a nuclear deal with Iran – or that Israel is operating with an unspoken blessing from the states. – United, doing a dirty job. which will weaken Iran’s position in the negotiations.
The White House said next to nothing publicly on Monday (12) about the apparent explosion inside Iran’s Natanz factory, which sits nearly eight meters below the surface. The explosion destroyed the energy supply that spins the centrifuges at supersonic speeds, enriching the uranium.
“The United States was not involved at all,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Monday. “We have nothing to add to speculation about the causes or the impacts.”
Joe Biden’s aides did not comment on whether the United States had been informed prior to the attack.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who was in Israel at the time of the attack, spoke to the press twice before leaving the country, but did not utter the word “Iran”.
White House and State Department officials said they were unsure whether the Iranians would travel to Vienna (Austria) again on Wednesday (14), when talks are expected to resume.
In Tehran, parliamentarians called on Chancellor Mohammad Javad Zarif to suspend talks, saying Iran should not participate in negotiations when under attack.
“Negotiations under pressure mean nothing,” Abbas Moghtadaie, deputy chairman of Parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, said in a conversation at the Clubhouse. “This is a message that we are sending very clearly today.”
The Biden administration wants to revive a deal, rejected three years ago by President Donald Trump, under which Iran accepts restrictions on its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu opposed the initial deal and made no secret of his willingness to start negotiations with the centrifuges.
In a statement broadcast on Iranian state television, Zarif said Israel “wants revenge on our progress towards lifting the sanctions.”
“But we are going to take revenge on the Zionists,” he continued.
His statements draw attention to the risk of an escalation in the years-long underground war between Iran and Israel, a conflict raging in the Natanz deserts, on the Persian Gulf sea lanes and in the woodland suburb of Tehran.
It was in one of these suburbs that Mohsen Fakhrizadeh – the head of what US intelligence officials call Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program – was killed in December by a remote machine gun as he was driving to his country house.
For the Iranians, this weekend’s attack was another humiliating indication that their nuclear program had been infiltrated by spies and saboteurs, who launched a series of daring attacks.
Israel normally remains silent when such attacks occur, but this time the local press, citing intelligence sources, attributed the action to Mossad, the country’s spy agency.
An intelligence official who asked not to be identified to talk about clandestine operations said an explosive device hidden in the Natanz factory detonated remotely and destroyed primary and emergency electrical systems.
Intelligence officials suggested that Iran would take many months to repair the damage.
Ali Akbar Salehi, director of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, said emergency power was restored to Natanz on Monday and uranium enrichment had not stopped at the plant. But it can take place at a fraction of the previous level.
“Much of what the enemy sabotaged can be restored,” he told Iranian media. “You won’t be able to stop this train.”
But the attack, the most recent security breach in a string of incidents last year, led to accusations against Tehran and accusations of infiltration at the highest levels of the security apparatus. The Revolutionary Guard intelligence unit is responsible for both the safety of nuclear power plants and the protection of scientists.
Moghtdaie said his committee would investigate what he described as “very obvious security infiltrations”.
Some US officials, refusing to speak officially, have expressed fears that the attack will push the nuclear program to an even deeper underground level. Iran went in this direction years ago when it built a small factory inside a mountain near the city of Qum.
Immediately, the leak of details of Israel’s involvement raised fears that Iran, in order not to be demoralized, would try to come up with a stronger military response than usual.
“As soon as Israeli officials are cited, revenge must be taken on the Iranians,” said Danny Yatom, a former Mossad chief, interviewed on Monday by an Israeli army radio.
“There are actions that must be kept confidential,” he said.
In Israel, some people have questioned whether the attack had a national objective for Netanyahu, and not just a foreign policy objective.
The prime minister is on trial for corruption and is struggling to form a new coalition government after a general election last month that failed to give any party a clear majority.
Some analysts believe that a very public confrontation with Iran could help Netanyahu persuade undecided partners that now is not the time to oust an experienced prime minister.
Iran has long maintained that its nuclear program is peaceful and aimed at energy development. But Israel sees it as an existential threat, as Iranian leaders have often advocated the destruction of Israel.
“Our common position is that Iran should never have nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said on Monday. “As Prime Minister of Israel, my policy is clear. I will never let Iran get the nuclear capability to achieve its genocidal goal of eliminating Israel. Israel will continue to defend itself against Iranian aggression and terrorism. “
In Washington, Jen Psaki said she hoped talks with Iran would resume on Wednesday, as scheduled.
“We expect them to be difficult and long,” she said. “We have not received any indication of any change in participation in these discussions.”