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Iran accuses Israel of sabotage attack on nuclear site, vows to "take revenge"

Iran blaming Israel for attack on nuclear facility
Iran blaming Israel for attack on Natanz nuclear facility 01:59

Dubai, United Arab Emirates — Iran on Monday blamed Israel for a sabotage attack on its underground Natanz nuclear facility that damaged the centrifuges it uses to enrich uranium there, warning that it would take revenge for the assault. The comments by Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh represent the first official accusation leveled against Israel for the incident Sunday that cut power across the facility.
Israel has not directly claimed responsibility for the attack. However, suspicion fell immediately on it as Israeli media widely reported that a devastating cyberattack orchestrated by Israel caused the blackout.
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 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers from being revived. 

Shuttle diplomacy has been underway in Austria, with U.S. and Iranian officials communicating through European intermediaries, regarding the U.S.' possible return to the international nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). President Joe Biden has expressed a willingness to negotiate a re-entry into the pact following his predecessor's unilateral withdrawal from it several years ago, but both Iran the U.S. have insisted the other side make the first major concessions.

Washington and Tehran hold indirect talks on reviving Iran nuclear deal 06:07

In the meantime, Iran has been steadily ramping-up it's nuclear enrichment program for months in violation of the international agreement, pointing to the U.S. as the first party to break the pact with then-President Donald Trump's withdrawal from it.

Details remained scarce about what happened early Sunday at the Natanz 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.

Iran Nuclear
This file photo released November 5, 2019 by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran shows centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP

The Head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization said, however, that uranium enrichment at Natanz was continuing without any interruption. 

The incident at the Natanz facility "did not disrupt the enrichment and the emergency power supply of the complex was connected," Ali-Akbar Salehi said on Monday, according to Iran's MEHR news agency. "Damaged centrifuges will be replaced with more powerful centrifuges in the next few days," he said, adding that the facility would "continue to work with 50% more capacity."  

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif separately warned Natanz would be reconstructed with more advanced machines, something that could imperil the ongoing talks in Vienna with world powers about saving Tehran's tattered atomic accord. 

"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."

Iran Nuclear Explainer
A photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian presidency on April 10, 2021 shows Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, second from right, listening to the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, while visiting an exhibition of Iran's nuclear achievements in Tehran, Iran. Iranian Presidency Office via AP

The IAEA, the United Nations body that monitors Tehran's atomic program, earlier said it was aware of media reports about the incident 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 at Natanz 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.

Iran Nuclear
An October 26, 2020, satellite image from Planet Labs Inc., annotated by experts at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Middlebury Institute of International Studies, shows construction at Iran's Natanz uranium-enrichment facility that experts believe to be a new, underground centrifuge assembly plant. Planet Labs Inc. via AP

Multiple Israeli media outlets reported Sunday that an Israeli cyberattack caused the blackout in Natanz. 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 agencies.
"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.

Iran limits access for U.N. nuclear inspectors in pressure campaign aimed at U.S. 05:40

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 corruption charges.

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