Heavy damage at Natanz, Iranian enrichment pushed back 9 months, reports say

Two intelligence sources put to rest the theory first raised that the damage had been caused by a cyberattack.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The fire caused by a mysterious explosion at the uranium enrichment site in Natanz on Sunday will set back Iranian production of the fissile material for at least nine months, intelligence officials told The New York Times Monday.

Two intelligence sources put to rest the theory first raised that the damage had been caused by a cyberattack. They told the Times that explosives had been used to completely destroy the standalone electric grid that powers the gas centrifuges which separate the uranium isotopes that can be used in nuclear weapons.

One Iranian official admitted to damage being caused to “centrifuges of an old design” and promised that they would be replaced by the newest kind.  Iran had announced the day before the explosion that it was starting up dozens of more advanced IR-9 centrifuges at its underground facility, which could separate isotopes 50 times faster than those currently installed.

Israeli intelligence sources had said Sunday that the damage to Natanz was significant and affected more than the IR-9s.

While first described as an “accident” by Iranian officials, by nightfall the words “sabotage” and “nuclear terrorism” were being used. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif then pointed an explicit finger at “the Zionists” as being the culprits.

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Israel’s Kan News reported Monday morning that Iranian authorities had announced that they had already identified the person who had caused the fire, without providing further details.

Keeping to its standard practice, Israel neither confirmed nor denied responsibility. However, both American and Israeli officials have anonymously affirmed Israel’s role in the affair. The Americans denied having anything to do with the sabotage.

The U.S. and Iran are currently engaged in indirect talks in Vienna regarding rejoining the nuclear deal that the Trump administration walked away from in 2018.

The Jerusalem Post reported Monday that the strike had been planned well in advance of the talks, when Israel did not know if the two adversaries would return to the negotiation table or not. Although permission to carry out this attack may have been given now to have a direct affect on the meetings, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials have talked often of the country’s ongoing and constant efforts to block their most dangerous enemy’s plans to build a nuclear weapons program.

As Netanyahu said at a pre-Independence Day event with the heads of Israel’s security branches on Sunday, “The struggle against Iran and its proxies and the Iranian armaments efforts is a huge mission.”