Who’s behind Natanz incident?

April 11, 2021 - 21:7

TEHRAN – Less than a week after a mysterious attack on an Iranian vessel in the Red Sea, an incident occurred at the Natanz nuclear facility for the second time in less than a year amid heightened tensions between Iran and Israel.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), told Iranian news outlets on Sunday that the electricity distribution grid of Natanz has been damaged due to an incident that he did not give many details about. 

Underlining that the incident did not cause human damage or contamination, Kamalvandi said, “The causes of the incident are being investigated and will be announced subsequently.”

 The spokesman stopped short of calling the incident an act of sabotage. In remarks to state TV, Kamalvandi pointed out that there was not sufficient information about the incident being an act of sabotage and that further investigations are needed to determine the cause of the incident.

But his explanations did little to quash rumors of an Israeli role in what happened at Natanz. Analysts and a lawmaker pointed the finger at Israel given its records of clandestine efforts to stymie Iran’s nuclear program.

“This incident, which occurred on the anniversary of the National Day of Nuclear Technology and during Iran's efforts to force the West to lift sanctions, is highly suspected of being sabotage and infiltration,” Malek Shariati, spokesman for the Iranian Parliament’s Energy Committee, said on Twitter, noting that the parliament is following the matter and will make announcement after the conclusion. 

The lawmaker was commenting on a tweet by Ali Samadzadeh, an Iranian expert on international affairs, in which he said that “disrupting the electrical grid of the Natanz nuclear site has been one of the methods of sabotage in this strategic facility of the country for many years, and a solution must be found to eliminate and prevent it.”

“This chronic pain should be cured,” Samadzadeh said.

Some Iranian experts were clearer about who was behind the incident. Masoud Barati, a sanctions expert, blamed the incident on Israel and even said it was a continuation of the recent attack on the Iranian vessel Saviz. 

“The Zionist regime [Israel] has increased its strikes because it saw Iran taking the bait of negotiations. Then the vessel incident and now Natanz,” he said on Twitter, drawing parallels between the Biden administration and its predecessor. 

Israeli media outlets were quick to hint at an Israeli role. While the incident was still under investigation, these outlets broached the possibility of a cyber attack, possibly by Israel. 

“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 claimed without giving any evidence to support its claim. 

Moreover, Chief of Staff of Israeli Armed Forces Aviv Kochavi also appeared to be hinting at Israel's involvement in recent developments regarding Iran, according to the Times of Israel.

“The Israel Defense Forces’ actions throughout the Middle East [West Asia] are not hidden from our enemies’ eyes. They are watching us, seeing our capabilities and carefully considering their next steps,” the top Israeli general claimed. 

“Kohavi’s comments came hours after reports emerged from Iran that its Natanz nuclear site had suffered a problem involving its electrical distribution grid and days after Israeli commandos reportedly detonated limpet mines” on the Iranian ship in the Red Sea, The Times of Israel added. 

Last week Iran’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement that confirmed media reports claiming that Saviz was attacked in the Red Sea.

 “The Iranian merchant ship Saviz sustained minor damage in the Red Sea off the coast of Djibouti at around 6:am local time on April 6, 2021, due to an explosion, the cause of which is being investigated,” Saeed Khatibzadeh, the Ministry’s spokesman said.

The attack on Saviz sparked a wave of speculation about a naval war between Iran and Israel. But some observers put the attack, as well as the incident at Natanz, in the broader context of Israel’s efforts to prevent the U.S. from returning to a 2015 nuclear deal officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Saviz was attacked on the same day Iran and the P4+1 resumed nuclear talks in Vienna and the recent incident at Natanz occurred on the Iranian National Day of Nuclear Technology. This has led some observers to draw a link between these incidents and Israel, which vehemently opposes the Iran nuclear deal.

The Associated Press said the Natanz incident complicates efforts by the U.S. to reenter the JCPOA. 

The timing of the Natanz incident also coincided with another development related to Israel’s animosity toward the JCPOA.  As news of the incident emerged, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin landed in Israel on Sunday. Following a meeting with Austin, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Israel will cooperate with the U.S. on the JCPOA.

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