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Natanz nuclear facility hit by ‘sabotage’: Iran

TEHRAN, Iran: A nuclear facility in Iran was hit by sabotage a day after it unveiled new uranium enrichment equipment, the country’s top nuclear official revealed.

Ali Akbar Salehi said the “terrorist act” caused a power failure at the Natanz complex south of Tehran on Sunday.

Israeli public media, however, cited intelligence sources who said it was the result of an Israeli cyber-attack.

Israel in recent days ramped up its warnings about Iran’s nuclear programme.

The latest incident comes as diplomatic efforts to revive a 2015 nuclear deal – abandoned by the US under the Trump administration in 2018 – have resumed.

On Saturday, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani inaugurated new centrifuges at the Natanz site in a ceremony that was broadcast live on television. Centrifuges are devices needed to produce enriched uranium, which can be used to make reactor fuel as well as nuclear weapons.

It represented another breach of the country’s undertakings in the 2015 deal, which only permits Iran to produce and store limited quantities of enriched uranium to be used to produce fuel for commercial power plants.

On Sunday, a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI), Behrouz Kamalvandi, said an “incident” had occurred in the morning involving the nuclear facility’s power network.

Kamalvandi did not provide further details but told Iran’s Fars news agency there had been “no casualties or leaks”.

Later, state TV read out a statement by AEOI head Ali Akbar Salehi, in which he described the incident as “sabotage” and “nuclear terrorism”.

“Condemning this despicable move, the Islamic Republic of Iran emphasises the need for the international community and the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] to deal with this nuclear terrorism,” he was quoted as saying.

“Iran reserves the right to take action against the perpetrators,” he added.

The IAEA said it was aware of the reports of an incident but would not comment.

Last July, sabotage was blamed for a fire at the Natanz site which hit a central centrifuge assembly workshop.

Israel’s army chief has appeared to hint at possible Israeli involvement in an incident at the Natanz nuclear site in Iran — an event labelled a “terrorist action” by the head of Iran’s atomic energy agency.

Iranian officials on Sunday confirmed an “incident” at Natanz, an underground facility where uranium enrichment takes place. “Fortunately, the incident did not cause any human injuries or leaks,” said Behrouz Kamalvand, a spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI). “The causes of the accident are under investigation and further information will be announced later.”

AEOI condemned the incident, calling it a “terrorist act,” according to the Iranian telegram channel of the Revolution Guard Corps, or IRGC, a branch of the Iranian Armed Forces.

Just hours after Iranian officials reported the incident, Israel’s army chief Aviv Kochavi said the country’s “operations throughout the Middle East are not hidden from the eyes of the enemies.”

“They are watching us, seeing the capabilities and carefully considering their steps,” he said, speaking Sunday at a remembrance event in Jerusalem to mark fallen soldiers.

Reports in several Israeli media outlets Sunday quoted intelligence officials saying Israel’s national intelligence agency, Mossad, was responsible for the incident. While few details of the unnamed officials are offered, some outlets described them as “Western intelligence sources,” though it is not immediately clear whether “Western” includes the possibility the sources are from Israel or not.

Israel’s Prime Minister’s office offered no comment on the reports, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Iran Sunday at a toast to mark the anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel.

“The struggle against Iran and its proxies and the Iranian armament efforts is a huge mission,” he said, appearing alongside Israel Defense Forces chief Kochavi and his senior commanders, as well as Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Netanyahu is due to meet on Monday with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin who is on a visit to the country. It is the highest-level visit to Israel by a member of the Biden administration and comes days after talks in Vienna aimed at restarting negotiations on a possible new nuclear deal between Iran and a US-led group of world powers.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has vowed revenge against Israel for an attack on Iran’s main nuclear facilities at Natanz but said it will not stop high-level talks to restore the country’s nuclear deal with world powers.

In a private meeting with lawmakers on Monday, Zarif pointed out that top Israeli officials explicitly said they would try to prevent multilateral efforts to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which would lead to lifting United States sanctions on Iran.

“Now they think they will achieve their goal. But the Zionists will get their answer in more nuclear advancements,” the diplomat was quoted as saying by state-run IRNA.

He vowed “revenge” against Israel and said Iran would not fall into its trap by refusing to engage in talks that could see unilateral US sanctions lifted.