image Photo: Reuters

Iran: attack on nuclear center foiled

A reported attack on the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) complex was prevented yesterday morning, according to state media.

“Thanks to the tight security measures predicted for AEOI premises, the attempted sabotage that took place early on Wednesday failed before causing any damage,” said the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) news agency.

IRNA further asserted that, “Such acts of sabotage aiming to disrupt Iranian nuclear activities have not been able to disturb continuation of Iran nuclear programs.”

The attempt targeted one of an AEOI building near Karaj, west of Tehran, according to the Islamic Republic’s Tasnim news agency.

Tasnim also referenced an “accident” that occurred “in part of the electricity network of ‘Ahmadi Roshan’ nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz” in April, and a “a blast had happened at the same nuclear facility in the central province of Isfahan” in July 2020 that officials described “as an act of sabotage.”

No other details about the AEOI incident were disclosed, other than the fact that it is now being investigated by Iranian authorities in efforts to identify the perpetrators.

The New York Times cited an Iranian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, who said that attempt was carried out by a quadcopter drone – that appeared to have been launched from within the country – on a plant that produces cutting-edge centrifuges that rapidly enrich greater amounts of uranium.

Last week Iranian state media reported that the Islamic Republic has already stockpiled 6.5 kg (14 lb) of uranium enriched to up to 60%.

Israeli media is today reporting that the AEOI facility was among those on a list of potential targets to strike to slow down Iran’s disputed nuclear development in a Jerusalem dossier provided to the administration of former United States President Donald Trump in early 2020.

Iran had defiantly declared on 14 April that it would begin enriching uranium to 60% purity and activate 1,000 advanced centrifuge machines at the Natanz facility where an explosion 3 days earlier was blamed on sabotage by arch-foe Israel.

“Apparently it is the crime of the Zionists, and if the Zionists act against our nation, we will answer it,” said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared during a televised cabinet meeting at the time, clearly stating that “Our response to their malice is replacing the damaged centrifuges with more advanced ones and ramping up the enrichment to 60% at the Natanz facility.”

AEOI Spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi was quoted by the semi-official Fars news agency as saying that immediately after decision that “practical preparations for 60% enrichment” were already underway at Natanz.

While a fissile purity of 90% is necessary to produce a nuclear bomb, the gap is not considered difficult to bridge.

Israel, which never issued a formal response to the accusations, is widely suspected of involvement in the Natanz attack as part of an escalating shadow war between the two countries.

The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear accord capped the level of purity to which Iran can enrich uranium hexafluoride for centrifuges at 3.67%.

In a significant step towards weapons-grade, the Ayatollah regime had previously increased enrichment to 20% purity in January 2020.

Jerusalem has long rejected Tehran’s assertion that it is not pursuing development of nuclear weapons, and views all nuclear activity in the Islamic Republic as an existential threat.

Iran’s latest violations of the JCPOA comes amid its indirect talks in Vienna to revive the deal, that had been fiercely opposed by Israel and abandoned in 2018 by former United States President Donald Trump.

Iran and the global powers have been holding what they described as “constructive” talks to salvage the accord, which unraveled as Tehran consistently breached its limits on uranium enrichment since being hit by re-imposed harsh US sanctions.

The administration of US President Joe Biden wants to restore the pact’s nuclear limits and, if possible, extend them; which is in accordance with Israel’s insistence that any new deal must encompass a wider scope and greater enforcement.

Israel is strongly opposed to current efforts by world powers in Vienna to return both Tehran and Washington to the JCPOA, unless it was expanded to include stronger enforcement measures to prevent Iran from acquiring atomic weapons and supporting its terrorist proxies.

Washington maintains that Jerusalem has received advance notification of any prospective dialogue with Iran; while Israeli officials suggest they have secured a behind-the-scenes conversation with the Biden White House in which their concerns are being heard.

While the US asserted it will only return to the JCPOA after Iran’s resumption of compliance with its terms, the Ayatollah regime has declared it will only adhere to nuclear curbs after sanctions re-imposed by Trump have been nullified.

Since early April, the remaining parties to the deal – Iran, Russia, China, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and the European Union- have been holding negotiations in the basement of a luxury hotel in Vienna. Due to Tehran’s refusal to hold face-to-face meetings with the US, Washington’s delegation is based at another hotel across the street.

The new Israeli government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has affirmed existing policy to use any and all means to prevent Iran – which has repeatedly vowed to destroy the Jewish State – from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Iran topped discussions Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz held during his lightning trip to Washington earlier this month with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan at the White House, Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon.

Stopping Iran is certainly a shared strategic need of the US, Europe, the countries of the Middle East, and Israel,” said Gantz at the time, before underscoring that the Israel-US “dialogue is so important to ensuring that any deal effectively meets its goal of keeping Iran away from a nuclear weapon.”

He also then reiterated that, “Of course, given the scope of the threat, Israel must always make sure that it has the ability to protect itself.”

Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Post cited a source with knowledge of the US side of the Vienna Talks, who said Washington is currently engaged in efforts to “extend the time between rounds of indirect nuclear talks with Iran” so cooperation Israel’s new government can be improved.

Israeli “experts” will reportedly be dispatched to Washington to discuss ways to better enforce any new negotiated form of the JCPOA, including specification of which sanctions would remain in place in the event the US recommits to the deal, said the paper.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi is currently in Washington where he is holding a series of meetings with US defense officials, largely focused on Iran. The top Israeli military chief will meet with CIA Director William Burns and the Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines today, following talks earlier this week with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Defense Secretary Austin.

Israeli Alternate Premier and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is slated to hold talks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Rome on Sunday.