Iran accuses Israel of attacking key nuclear site, calling it ‘crime against humanity’

Iran accuses Israel of attacking key nuclear site, calling it ‘crime against humanity’

Iran's foreign minister on Monday accused Israel of responsibility for a weekend blackout at a key Iranian nuclear facility, an incident that an Israeli media outlet reported was the result of a cyberattack carried out by the Mossad, Israel's spy agency.

Iranian officials said Sunday that the nuclear site, Natanz, had suffered a mysterious electrical outage, which the head of Iran’s civilian nuclear agency later blamed on “nuclear terrorism” and another official called a “crime against humanity.” Suspicion immediately fell on Israel, which for years has carried out a campaign of high-profile explosions, assassinations and other forms of sabotage aimed at Iran’s nuclear program.

Signs point to sabotage in explosion at Iranian nuclear complex

In comments quoted Monday by Iran’s state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blamed the attack on Israel, saying that “the Zionists want to take revenge on the Iranian people for their success in lifting the oppressive sanctions, but we will not allow it and we will take revenge on the Zionists themselves.”

On Sunday, the Israeli public broadcaster Kan, citing unnamed Israeli and U.S. intelligence sources, reported that Israel was behind the cyberattack on Natanz and that the “Mossad was involved.” The sources said the damage to centrifuges at the site as a result of the attack was “significant” and would delay Iranian efforts to enrich uranium. The assertions could not be immediately confirmed.

Yoel Guzansky, former head of the Iran desk of Israel’s National Security Council and a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, said that reports of Mossad involvement in the Natanz blackout indicate a rare move to circumvent Israel’s military censor and unofficially claim responsibility.

“If it was authorized, Israel wants its name to be connected to the attack and to gain something, either vis-a-vis Iran or the U.S. If it’s unauthorized, it’s a security breach problem, but either way, it’s a problem,” he said. “It’s not healthy to brag, but you also force your opponent to do something, and I’m sure they will.”

While Iranian officials acknowledged that centrifuges were damaged, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said Monday that emergency power systems were put into operation after the attack and that “enrichment in Natanz has not stopped and is moving forward vigorously,” according to the IRNA.

In a news briefing Monday, Saeed Khatibzadeh, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, called the attack on Natanz “a bold act of nuclear terrorism on Iranian soil” and among the “crimes against humanity which the Israeli regime has been doing for many years now.”

There were no casualties or nuclear contamination as a result of the attack, but it could have “resulted in a catastrophic situation,” he said.

He added that some of the older-generation centrifuges were damaged but would be replaced by newer ones.

On Saturday, the day before the blackout and Iran’s national day for nuclear technology, new, more-modern centrifuges were tested at the Natanz facility, with capacity to refine uranium at a much faster rate.

A senior Biden administration official said: “We have seen reports of an incident at the Natanz enrichment facility in Iran. The United States had no involvement, and we have nothing to add to speculation about the causes.”

The alleged attack on Natanz came less than a week after the United States and Iran attended talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and six world powers. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018 and imposed hundreds of new sanctions on Tehran as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign.

Iran insisted it was still committed to the agreement but said it would progressively abandon some elements of the deal. It has increased both the quantity and quality of its enriched uranium, from the 3.67 percent enrichment stipulated in the nuclear deal to 20 percent. The delicate negotiations in Vienna, brokered by European powers, are attempting to find a formula that would lift U.S. sanctions while bringing Iran back into compliance with the terms of the agreement.

The escalation of a shadow war between Israel and Iran, including increasingly publicized maritime attacks, could threaten what both Washington and Tehran have said is modest progress in the negotiations. Israel is staunchly opposed to the nuclear accord.

An explosion last week that damaged an Iranian ship in the Red Sea occurred just hours before Iran and the United States launched the Vienna talks. In July, a mysterious explosion at the Natanz facility was also described by Iran as sabotage.

By Shira Rubin and Kareem Fahim

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