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Report: Israel suspected in large explosion at Iranian nuclear site, a 'severe blow' that may prevent uranium enrichment there for rest of 2021

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Iran called it an act of 'nuclear terrorism'

An International Atomic Energy Agency inspector at Iran's nuclear research center of Natanz (Photo by KAZEM GHANE/IRNA/AFP via Getty Images)

Israel is suspected of being behind a large explosion at Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment site Sunday, which resulted in a blackout and the complete destruction of its power system. It could prevent the facility from enriching uranium for the rest of year, the New York Times reported, citing anonymous intelligence officials.

What are the details?

The Times cited two officials who described a classified Israeli operation that dealt a "severe blow" to Iran's ability to enrich uranium — and that it could take at least nine months to restore Natanz's production.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, called it an act of "nuclear terrorism" and said the international community must confront the threat, the paper reported.

"The action this morning against the Natanz enrichment site shows the defeat of those who oppose our country's nuclear and political development and the significant gains of our nuclear industry," Salehi said, according to Times, which cited Iranian news media. "The incident shows the failure of those who oppose Iran negotiating for sanctions relief."

The act also "injected new uncertainty into diplomatic efforts that began last week to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal repudiated by the Trump administration," the paper noted.

More from the Times:

Iran did not say precisely what had caused the blackout at the heavily fortified site, which has been a target of previous sabotage, and Israel publicly declined to confirm or deny any responsibility. But American and Israeli intelligence officials said there had been an Israeli role. [...]

It was not immediately clear how much advance word — if any — the Biden administration received about the Natanz operation, which happened on the same morning that the American defense secretary, Lloyd J. Austin III, was visiting Israel. But Israeli officials have made no secret of their unhappiness over Mr. Biden's desire to revive the nuclear agreement that his predecessor renounced in 2018.

The talks to salvage the nuclear agreement — i.e., Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — are set to resume this week, the paper added.

'Sabotage and infiltration'

Malek Shariati Niasar, an Iranian lawmaker and spokesman for the Parliament's energy committee, said on Twitter that the outage was "very suspicious" and raised the possibility of "sabotage and infiltration," the Times reported.

More from the paper:

Some Iranian experts dismissed initial speculation that a cyberattack could have caused the power loss. The Natanz complex has its own power grid, multiple backup systems and layers of security protection intended to stop such an attack from abruptly shutting down its system.

"It's hard to imagine that it was a cyberattack," said Ali Vaez, the Iran project director at the International Crisis Group. "The likely scenario is that it either targeted the facility indirectly or through physical infiltration." The intelligence officials said it was indeed a detonation of explosives.

What else has gone down?

Iranian military leaders threatened Israel following mysterious explosions at Iranian nuclear and military sites last year, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

"We warn the Zionist liars and their puppeteers that if they continue their prattle, they will see the upper hand of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the resistance front in action," Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi was quoted as saying in the country's state-controlled press, the Free Beacon said.

In November Iran claimed one of its top nuclear scientists was assassinated with Israeli involvement. The Israeli government believed Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was the mastermind directing Iran's nuclear weapons program in the early 2000s.

Immediately following Fakhrizadeh's death, the New York Times was blasted for calling Iran's nuclear program "peaceful."

In December Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said he had "no doubt" that then-President-elect Joe Biden will "bow" to Iran and rejoin the nuclear deal.

Indeed, the Biden administration in February said it was ready to begin talks with Iran to rejoin the deal.

(H/T: The Daily Wire)

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