by Hugh Fitzgerald
Natanz is the site of Iran’s most important nuclear facility. It is where Iran’s advanced centrifuges are assembled and where they are used to enrich uranium. An Israeli cyberattack at Natanz just did a great deal of damage, far more than the Iranians are admitting. This was not the first time that Natanz had been the target of Israeli attacks.
In fact, Israel has been targeting Natanz for years. Computer worms, sabotage by agents on the spot, and cyberattacks have all been used to damage or destroy much of the facility, which the Iranians then attempt to rebuild. A timeline of the Israeli attacks on Natanz is here.
An Iranian opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, held a press conference and revealed the existence of an underground enrichment plant in Natanz. Built in a heavily-fortified bunker, Natanz showed that the Iranians had learned from the mistakes of the Iraqis whose Osirak reactor, destroyed by Israel in 1981, was located above ground. The Mossad was suspected of having provided the group with the information….
Stuxnet, a virus reportedly created by Israel and the United States, infiltrates Natanz and succeeds in destroying over 1,000 centrifuges, causing significant delays to Iran’s nuclear program. The Stuxnet code caused the engines in Iran’s IR-1 centrifuges to increase and decrease their speed. Iran usually ran its motors at 1,007 cycles per second to prevent damage, while Stuxnet seemed to increase the motor speed to 1,064 cycles per second, causing the engines to explode.
An explosion destroys an advanced centrifuge assembly facility at Natanz, setting back advanced centrifuge development – according to estimates – by one to two years.
The explosion was meant to send a message of determination to stop the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, The Jerusalem Post learned at the time, with the purpose of sending an unambiguous deterrent message that progress toward a nuclear weapon beyond certain redlines would not be tolerated….
An “accident” was reported Sunday morning [April 11] at the Natanz electricity distribution network, Atomic Energy Organization of Iran spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told the Iranian Fars News Agency.
Based on reports, it seems that the so-called accident was caused by a cyberattack, possibly by Israel. The reported incident comes less than a month after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran had restarted enrichment at the Natanz facility and less than a year after Israel was blamed by foreign reports for an alleged attack on the facility, which reportedly impacted Iran’s nuclear program significantly.
The latest attack on Natanz was not “possibly by Israel,” but was “certainly by Israel,” as all the previous attacks on Natanz’s uranium enrichment facilities have been. The timing of this latest attack is significant. While Americans in Vienna engage in their appeasement of Iran, the Israelis have acted in quite a different way. The Americans, having earlier declared that Iran would have to make the first move, recommitting partially to the 2015 deal, and only then would America reciprocate by lifting some of the sanctions, have now capitulated to Iran, declaring that the U.S. is now ready, without more, to lift all sanctions “not consistent with the JCPOA.”
The Israelis have within the last few weeks shown both Iran, and the U.S., that appeasement is not on their mind. Israeli naval commandos attached limpet mines to the hull of the Saviz, an Iranian spy-ship used by the IRGC, that has been parked for the past three years in the Red Sea just off the coast of Yemen. It was there both to supply information, and to transfer weapons, to the Houthis, and also to monitor Israeli sea traffic in that important maritime waterway that links Israel to Asia. The limpet mines caused a small explosion; they were mean to warn Iran that Israel could strike the ship in other ways, if so inclined, such as with military drones or even missiles. Israel has already struck dozens of Iranian cargo ships in the Mediterranean that were bringing oil and weapons to Syria. Now it has signaled that Iranian ships in the Red Sea can and will be targeted. It is also a signal to the Americans: you can capitulate if you wish, but our task remains the same: to defend the Jewish state, if need be by ourselves, both by preventing Iran’s nuclear program from proceeding, and to set back Iran’s regional aggressions that are designed to create a “Shi’a crescent” from Yemen to Lebanon.
Israel has also made clear, with its mid-April cyberattack on Natanz, that it will inexorably proceed with its campaign to set back Iran’s nuclear program. A report on Iran’s reaction is here: “‘Mossad behind cyberattack on Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility,’” by Yonah Jeremy Bob, Lahav Harkov, and Tzvi Joffre, Jerusalem Post, April 12, 2021
The incident at Natanz on Sunday morning was not an “accident” and the damage is much graver than what Iran is presenting to the public, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
An “accident” occurred on Sunday morning in the electricity distribution network at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, the country’s main uranium enrichment facility, Atomic Energy Organization of Iran spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told the Iranian Fars News Agency….
Iran is not trying to hide the “incident” — that would have been impossible — but it still insists that it was an “accident” and continues to minimize the damage.
For if it were truthfully described, as an attack by Israel, pressure from below for the Iranian government to respond in kind would be terrific, perhaps forcing Tehran to attack Israel in a way that, knowing what would come next from Jerusalem, it wishes to avoid.
No injuries or pollution were caused by the incident, Kamalvandi said, adding that the cause of the incident is under investigation and further information will be announced later….
Note that Kamalvandi denies any “injuries or pollution” from the attack but says nothing about physical damage to the plant and its thousands of centrifuges.
On Saturday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran had begun injecting uranium hexaflouride gas into advanced IR-6 and IR-5 centrifuges at Natanz….
Rouhani’s announcement came just one day before the attack on Natanz. Was that what caused Israel to attack just then – the worry over the latest injection of uranium hexafluoride gas into advanced centrifuges and the need to stop the process as quickly as possible? Or was the date chosen, as Iranian MP Niasar suggests, because it is Iran’s National Nuclear Technology Day?
Recently the Post reported that Iran is still nowhere near having recovered to the point it had been before that July 2020 explosion in terms of its capacity for assembling new advanced centrifuges.
In other words, that July 2020 explosion at Natanz has already set back Iran’s nuclear program by almost a year – and it is still “nowhere near” where it was before that attack. On top of that still unrepaired damage, the latest cyberattack has no doubt set back Iran’s nuclear program even further. How long? A year? Two years? Israel, playing its cards close to its chest, isn’t saying.
In the alleged attack last year, Iranian reports also originally referred to the explosion as an “incident” without providing further details.
Iran has a history of describing Israeli attacks as “incidents” without more, and certainly without attributing them to Israel alone, for if it did, popular pressure to retaliate would increase, and the Iranian leaders know they are in no position to engage in such retaliation, which would then be answered by Israel with a devastating blow. The Iranians remember that after the brief attempt by Iran’s cyberwarriors to poison, with toxic amounts of chlorine, a tiny part of Israel’s water supply, which might have sickened – not killed — only “hundreds,” Israel’s cyberwarriors in retaliation managed to shut down traffic at the Shahid Rajaee port, causing massive truck backups at the port and disrupting maritime traffic (ships trying to both to load and unload) for weeks. Iran doesn’t want to provide Israel with an excuse to launch another such attack, by having to launch its own cyberattack in response to the Natanz 2021 attack. It has preferred so far to describe that attack merely as an “accident.”
The centrifuge assembly hall was blown up by the enemy a few months ago, but we did not stop and temporarily set up the hall that made up for the lost hall,” said AEO head Ali Akbar Salehi on Saturday, according to Fars. Salehi did not specify which “enemy” was behind the attack last year….
By not specifying the enemy responsible for blowing up the Natanz centrifuge plant in 2020, Iran relieved itself of the need to respond against Israel, and thereby court another attack. It also preferred to confuse matters by letting the Iranian people think the U.S. could have been behind the attack. In that case, Tehran’s refusal to take on militarily the world’s most powerful country, the U.S., would be understood by Iranians.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for the Iranian military blamed Israel and the US for causing an explosion on the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Saviz vessel in the Red Sea, in a statement to Sputnik news on Thursday.
“The United States undoubtedly has a hand in all attempts to undermine and harm Iran,” said the spokesman, adding that Tehran was not accusing any of the Gulf states of being involved in the incident….
Iran’s amour-propre is rescued if it can attribute these attacks, in whole or in part, to the Americans. That tiny Israel, the state of the despised Jews, could have carried out such acts against Iran all by itself would have been too humiliating to admit – and potentially too dangerous (see above).
The April 2021 attacks by Israel on the Natanz advanced centrifuge facility, this time not by agents on the ground committing sabotage, as happened in the previous attack on the centrifuge assembly plant in Natanz in 2020 — but by Israeli cyberwarriors, who are among the best in the world, has surely shaken the Iranians. They can twist the Americans and the Europeans around their little fingers, with a blend of sweet talk and threats, but Israel remains unimpressed, and relentless in its focus on curbing Iran’s nuclear facilities and discouraging its regional aggressions.
This latest attack on Natanz was far worse than Iran admits. And it’s not the last in the series There are more to come, some of them even now being planned to destroy, if need be, the facilities that Iran is now building inside the mountain at Fordo. Israel does not yet possess the kind of Massive Ordnance Penetrator, known as the Bunker Buster, that it would need to destroy nuclear facilities inside a mountain. But does anyone doubt that even if the Biden Administration refuses to supply them to the IDF, that those endlessly inventive Israelis will find a way to manufacture – and find, too, the means to deliver – their own bunker busters?
No one who has bet against the State of Israel has yet had a winning hand.
In the Emirates, in Bahrain, in Saudi Arabia, in Egypt, where they watch with admiration as Israel deals blow after blow to the Iranians, they are grateful that “he who watches over Israel “ – the IDF – “neither slumbers nor sleeps.”
First published in Jihad Watch.