Iran Blames Israel for Sabotage 04/12 06:08
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Iran blamed Israel on Monday for a
sabotage attack on its underground Natanz nuclear facility that damaged
centrifuges it uses to enrich uranium, warning that it would avenge the assault.
Israel has not claimed responsibility for the attack. However, suspicion
fell immediately on it as Israeli media widely reported that the country had
orchestrated a devastating cyberattack that caused the blackout.
Sunday's assault and Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh's comments
blaming Israel could imperil ongoing talks in Vienna with world powers about
saving a tattered accord aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear program.
If Israel was responsible, it would further heighten tensions between the
two nations, already engaged in a shadow conflict across the wider Middle East.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met Sunday with U.S. Defense
Secretary Lloyd Austin, has vowed to do everything in his power to stop the
reviving of the nuclear deal.
At a news conference at Israel's Nevatim air base Monday, where he viewed
Israeli air and missile defense systems and its F-35 combat aircraft, Austin
declined to say whether the Natanz attack could impede the Biden
administration's efforts to re-engage with Iran in its nuclear program.
"Those efforts will continue," Austin said. The previous American
administration under Donald Trump had pulled out of the nuclear deal with world
powers, leading Iran to begin abandoning its limits.
Details remained scarce about what happened early Sunday at the facility.
The event was initially described as a blackout caused by the electrical grid
feeding its above-ground workshops and underground enrichment halls.
"The answer for Natanz is to take revenge against Israel," Khatibzadeh said.
"Israel will receive its answer through its own path." He did not elaborate.
Khatibzadeh acknowledged that IR-1 centrifuges, the first-generation
workhorse of Iran's uranium enrichment, had been damaged in the attack, but did
not elaborate. State television has yet to show images from the facility.
A former chief of Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard said the attack
had also set off a fire at the site and called for improvements in security. In
a tweet, Gen. Mohsen Rezaei said that the second attack at Natanz in a year
signaled "the seriousness of the infiltration phenomenon." Rezaei did not say
where he got his information.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif separately warned Natanz would
be reconstructed with more advanced machines. That would allow Iran to more
quickly enrich uranium, complicating talks on the deal.
"The Zionists wanted to take revenge against the Iranian people for their
success on the path of lifting sanctions," Iran's state-run IRNA news agency
quoted Zairf as saying. "But we do not allow (it), and we will take revenge for
this action against the Zionists."
Officials launched an effort Monday to provide emergency power to Natanz,
said Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's civilian nuclear program. He said the
sabotage had not stopped enrichment there, without elaborating.
The IAEA, the United Nations body that monitors Tehran's atomic program,
earlier said it was aware of media reports about the blackout at Natanz and had
spoken with Iranian officials about it. The agency did not elaborate.
Natanz has been targeted by sabotage in the past. The Stuxnet computer
virus, discovered in 2010 and widely believed to be a joint U.S.-Israeli
creation, once disrupted and destroyed Iranian centrifuges there during an
earlier period of Western fears about Tehran's program.
In July, Natanz suffered a mysterious explosion at its advanced centrifuge
assembly plant that authorities later described as sabotage. Iran now is
rebuilding that facility deep inside a nearby mountain. Iran also blamed Israel
for the November killing of a scientist who began the country's military
nuclear program decades earlier.
Multiple Israeli media outlets reported Sunday that an Israeli cyberattack
caused the blackout. Public broadcaster Kan said the Mossad was behind the
attack. Channel 12 TV cited "experts" as estimating the attack shut down entire
sections of the facility.
While the reports offered no sourcing for their information, Israeli media
maintains a close relationship with the country's military and intelligence
"It's hard for me to believe it's a coincidence," Yoel Guzansky, a senior
fellow at Tel Aviv's Institute for National Security Studies, said of the
blackout. "If it's not a coincidence, and that's a big if, someone is trying to
send a message that 'we can limit Iran's advance and we have red lines.'"
It also sends a message that Iran's most sensitive nuclear site is
penetrable, he added.
Netanyahu late Sunday toasted his security chiefs, with the head of the
Mossad, Yossi Cohen, at his side on the eve of his country's Independence Day.
"It is very difficult to explain what we have accomplished," Netanyahu said
of Israel's history, saying the country had been transformed from a position of
weakness into a "world power."
Israel typically doesn't discuss operations carried out by its Mossad
intelligence agency or specialized military units. In recent weeks, Netanyahu
repeatedly has described Iran as the major threat to his country as he
struggles to hold onto power after multiple elections and while facing