• Wednesday, May 12, 2021
  • Last Update : 12:39 am

Iran accuses Israel of sabotage at nuclear site, vows revenge

  • Published at 09:57 pm April 12th, 2021
Iran Uranium Enrichment Facility
FILE PHOTO: A view of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility 250 km south of the Iranian capital Tehran on March 30, 2005 Reuters

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) said a ‘small explosion’ had hit the plant's electricity distribution centre on Sunday

Iran charged on Monday that its arch-enemy Israel was behind an attack on its Natanz uranium enrichment plant and vowed it would take "revenge" and ramp up its nuclear activities. 

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) said a "small explosion" had hit the plant's electricity distribution centre on Sunday in what the foreign ministry labelled an Israeli act of "terrorism".

The latest of a string of incidents hitting Iran's nuclear program came days after talks resumed to salvage the battered 2015 Iranian nuclear deal that former US president Donald Trump abandoned.

His successor Joe Biden wants to revive the accord between Iran and a group of world powers, which places limits on the Islamic republic's nuclear program in return for relief from biting economic sanctions.

Israel strongly opposes the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and has vowed to stop the Islamic republic from building an atomic bomb -- a goal Tehran has always strongly denied pursuing.

Iran initially reported a power blackout had hit the Natanz site on Sunday, a day after it announced it had started up advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges banned under the deal.

Israel did not claim responsibility for the incident, but unsourced media reports in the country attributed it to the Israeli security services carrying out a "cyber operation."

The New York Times, quoting unnamed US and Israeli intelligence officials, also said there had been "an Israeli role" in the attack. It reported that a large explosion had "completely destroyed" the power system which fed the site's "underground centrifuges."

'Terrorism'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while hosting US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin in Jerusalem, reiterated on Monday his stance that Israel will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, without mentioning the Natanz incident.

"I will never allow Iran to obtain the nuclear capability to carry out its genocidal goal of eliminating Israel, and Israel will continue to defend itself against Iran's aggression and terrorism," he said.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Khatibzadeh earlier vowed that Iran's response to the Natanz incident would be to take "revenge on the Zionist regime" when and where Tehran chooses.

"Of course, the Zionist regime, with this action, tried to take revenge on the people of Iran for their patience and wise attitude regarding the lifting of sanctions," he said.

The head of the AEOI, Ali Akbar Salehi, said that "this incident was certainly sabotage," state news agency IRNA reported.

In a separate report by the Fars news agency, Salehi was quoted as saying that "the damaged centrifuges will be replaced with even more powerful" ones.

In a related incident, an AEOI spokesman, Behrouz Kamalvandi, suffered an accident on Sunday while inspecting the site when he "fell from a few meters and suffered light fractures on his feet and head," an IRNA report said.

Kamalvandi gave a video interview from his hospital bed on Monday to the Tasnim news agency, in which he voiced confidence that after the "small explosion" the damage could be fixed soon.

"Fortunately, no one was hurt, and the situation is such that in my opinion, they can quickly repair the damaged areas," Kamalvandi added. 

Avoiding 'trap'

Tehran has blamed Israel's Mossad spy agency for previous attacks on its nuclear facilities and experts -- including the killing last November of its top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

Natanz was the site of a previous incident last July, during which a building was damaged, an incident for which some Iranian media also blamed Israel.

Israel and Iran have long fought a shadow war, with Israel often striking Iran-allied forces in war-torn Syria. Since early March, both countries have also accused each other of a number of attacks on each others' ships.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Monday that Tehran would not allow the Natanz attack to affect the Vienna talks. Iran must avoid "falling in the trap" set by Israel, he told a parliamentary meeting.

The European Union said it "rejects any attempts" to undermine the Vienna talks and stressed the "need to clarify the facts" over the incident.

The Russian foreign ministry said it was closely following the situation surrounding the "serious incident" and that "if it is confirmed that someone's malicious actions are behind this incident, then such intent deserves strong condemnation."

The ministry added that it is "alarming how this situation" could affect talks in Vienna, which are set to resume tomorrow. 

Germany, a partner to the nuclear accord, also warned that the "development in Natanz" was "not a positive contribution" to the negotiations.

Marc Finaud, head of Arms Proliferation at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, said the Natanz incident was "not really surprising" and appeared aimed at derailing the Vienna talks.

"This process is typical whenever there are peace negotiations," he said. "There are always spoilers to slow down or to sabotage the process because in this case, it is not only sabotage of centrifuges, it is sabotage of diplomacy." 

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