“anti-nuclear terrorism”. This is how Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization (OIEA), described the mysterious incident which struck the atomic complex of Natanz (center), one of the main nuclear sites in the country. Sunday morning, the OIEA revealed that an “accident” of unknown origin had taken place “in a part of the electrical circuit of the enrichment plant of the Chahid Ahmadi-Rochan complex”, causing “a blackout” . In Tehran, the Iranian authorities believe that this is a deliberate attack, which owes nothing to chance. It comes the day after the announcement with great fanfare by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani of the production of a line of 164 advanced IR-6 centrifuges at Natanz, at a time when the signatories of the Iranian nuclear agreement (JCPOA) gathered in Vienna to try to find a diplomatic solution to this thorny issue blocked for three years.
“This attack clearly seems to target what is happening in Vienna,” said Franco-Iranian political analyst Kianouch Dorrani. “The Israeli services are trying to create pitfalls in order to slow down the process of normalization between the United States and Iran. The representatives of the two countries are currently present in Austria to indirectly discuss a joint return within the framework of the JCPOA. Former US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the agreement in May 2018, which according to Tehran according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), restoring against the Islamic Republic the sanctions “the harshest of history ”, before Tehran in turn broke its commitments a year later. According to the latest IAEA report, the Islamic Republic now has 14 times more low-enriched uranium than the limit set by the JCPOA.
“Severe blow” to Iranian capacities
In Iran, all eyes are on Israel, a fierce opponent of the Iranian nuclear program which it considers to be for military purposes, which the Islamic Republic denies. Tehran already considers the Hebrew state to be responsible for a previous sabotage that targeted the Natanz complex in July 2020. Tel Aviv is also suspected of being behind the assassination last November of Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, father of the Iranian military nuclear program, in the suburbs of Tehran. “Zionists want revenge for success [obtenu] on the way to lifting oppressive sanctions, ”Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused Monday, using the name by which the Tehran authorities appoint representatives of the Hebrew state. “But we will not allow it and we will take revenge for these actions against the Zionists themselves,” he added, according to the Irna agency. As for Israel, it has neither confirmed nor denied its responsibility, as is customary in such circumstances.
But according to the New York Times, it would bear the mark of Israel. Citing two officials – an Israeli and an American – intelligence, the American daily believes that the explosion “completely destroyed” the internal power system of centrifuges for enrichment of uranium, yet placed underground. According to the New York newspaper, the attack would have inflicted a “severe blow” on Iranian uranium enrichment capabilities and it would take “at least nine months” for the Natanz plant to fully resume its production of enriched uranium. . If certain specialists in Israel evoke a cyberattack, the researcher Ali Vaez estimates on the contrary that the most probable scenario is an operation carried out remotely or via a physical infiltration in the factory. “After the Stuxnet cyberattack (which targeted the Iranian nuclear program in 2010, Editor’s note), Iran cut all connections between its nuclear facilities and the outside world”, recalls the director of the Iran project within the International think tank Crisis Group.
Faillite de Donald Trump
“If it is indeed Israel, then the attack would have two distinct objectives. First of all an operational goal: to stop the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, which is real, ”analyzes Ely Karmon, researcher in strategic issues and counter-terrorism at the Herzliya interdisciplinary center. “Then a political goal: to convince Western officials who are negotiating in Vienna not to collapse under Iranian pressure. At the same time, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin made the first visit to Israel by an official in the Biden administration, to reassure his Israeli counterpart Benny Gantz of the ongoing negotiations with Iran. Last Wednesday, while diplomats reported “constructive” discussions in Vienna, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu recalled that “an agreement with Iran which would pave the way for nuclear weapons (…) would not be in any way binding For the Hebrew state. The head of the Israeli government has always castigated the JCPOA which he considers a bad deal, along with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Although this text authorizes the most thorough inspections of the IAEA in a country to date, Netanyahu repeats that Iran wishes to equip itself with the atomic bomb, under the cover of a civilian program, with the aim of destroying it. Hebrew state.
Forced to chomp on the brakes under Barack Obama, determined to sign the agreement despite his protests, the Israeli Prime Minister has worked with all his weight behind the scenes to get his ally Donald Trump to withdraw the United States from the text. “The majority of Israeli leaders and experts are now convinced that Donald Trump’s strategy on Iran has failed, and that the Iranians have advanced all the more quickly towards the bomb,” said researcher Ely Karmon, of especially since the IAEA has reported that Tehran has violated its obligations regarding the quantity and quality of enriched uranium. According to the latest estimates from Israeli military intelligence, Tehran would be two years away from nuclear weapons if it decided to launch into production today. Considering despite everything that an American-Iranian agreement for a common return to the JCPOA is inevitable, Tel Aviv could have decided to strike Natanz, in consultation with Washington, to delay Iranian advances in nuclear matters as much as possible.
“Win-win scenario for Israel”
“It seems to be a win-win scenario for Israel,” analyzes researcher Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group. “If Iran does not retaliate for fear of derailing the diplomatic process in Vienna, this operation allows Israel to inflict a gratuitous and devastating setback on Iran’s nuclear program. But if Iran retaliates, adds the specialist, then it could jeopardize the negotiations in Austria, which is in line with Israel’s objectives. Operation Natanz would only be the latest episode in a much larger and more secretive shadow war currently being waged by the region’s two best enemies. At daggers drawn in Syria, Israel and Iran have in recent months extended their rivalry to the Red Sea, where their commercial and military ships have recently been the victims of curious explosions. They have not yet made a victim, neither side wishing to enter into an open and potentially devastating conflict. “Nobody is calling for it,” says analyst Kianouch Dorrani, “but the two countries are gradually getting stuck in a direct confrontation. ”