Iran has vowed revenge for “nuclear sabotage” and “nuclear terrorism” on its Natanz underground nuclear site, blaming Israeli forces for the attack. Iran claims Israel’s intentions are to damage a potential new nuclear deal between Iran and the new US administration that would clear the way to lift the crippling sanctions imposed on Iran after President Trump controversially withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal.
On Saturday, the day before the attack on the site, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani reportedly inaugurated new centrifuges and enrichment devices at Iran’s underground Natanz uranium enrichment plant in a ceremony that was broadcast live on Iranian state television. It was claimed that the new centrifuges and devices would speed up enrichment of uranium, which can be used to make reactor fuel as well as in nuclear weapons.
Western powers and Israel have for a long time accused Iran of attempting to build a nuclear weapon and over the years have imposed restrictions and sanctions against Iran.
However, in 2015 a deal was struck between Iran and the US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany that meant Iran would reduce its nuclear activities, such as quantities of enrichment, in return for the lifting of crippling sanctions. Iran also agreed to international inspections to verify the agreements.
However, when Donald Trump came to power in the US, he scrapped the nuclear deal and reimposed ever greater sanctions while seeking to get a new deal with the Iranian regime that would also include restrictions on ballistic weapons. But Iran refused a new deal with Trump and so when Biden took the presidency Iran’s position was that these crippling sanctions must be lifted before returning to compliance on the development of nuclear technologies.
The Saturday ceremony in the Natanz nuclear site was a show of defiance by Iran in the face of no further lifting of sanctions by the US, and was seen as part of Iran’s positioning itself for any new negotiated deal with the US and its partners.
On Sunday morning, however, there was reportedly a massive attack on the same underground Natanz nuclear site, with Iranian authorities claiming to be the victims of “nuclear terrorism” and declaring that Iran will “take revenge” for the attack. Iran blames Israel for the attack that has reportedly damaged significant parts of the site, saying that Israel wants to scupper any deal that will lift sanctions for Iran.
Iran’s foreign minister was quoted in the Iranian state media as saying, “The Zionists want to take revenge because of our progress in the way to lift sanctions.”
The New York Times reported that two intelligence officials had briefed the paper on the damage and said it had been “caused by a large explosion that completely destroyed the independent — and heavily protected — internal power system that supplies the underground centrifuges that enrich uranium.”
The damage is thought to put back Iran’s nuclear programme by at least nine months while the damage is repaired and would remove any leverage that Iran would have when negotiating a new deal with President Biden.