Natanz explosion destroyed facility 50 meters underground

The alleged Israeli attack on Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility destroyed an electrical substation located 40 to 50 meters underground, Fereydoon Abbasi-Davani, former head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, told Iranian media on Monday.

Davani added that the substation was built underground in order to protect it from air and missile strikes, and that the attack had used either a cyberattack, sabotaged equipment or sabotage committed by agents.

The Iranian official stressed that such an operation takes years, saying “the design of the enemy was very beautiful.” The explosion managed to damage both the power distribution system and the cable leading to the centrifuges in order to cut power to the centrifuges.

An intelligence official told The New York Times on Tuesday that the attack was carried out through an explosive device that had been smuggled into the facility and detonated remotely, taking out both the primary and backup electrical systems.

Davani confirmed on Monday that this was how the attack last July was carried out as well, telling Iranian media that the attack last year was carried out through explosives that were embedded in a heavy table that was brought into the facility.

The former AEO head explained that in a similar attack at the Fordow nuclear facility in 2012 power lines from the city of Qom were cut by an explosion, so they had anticipated such an attack and had stored fuel for producing electricity for three months in case such an incident occurred.

Davani, who now serves on the Iranian Parliament’s energy commission, survived an assassination attempt in 2010 in which bombs were attached to the side of his car by men on motorcycles. A second nuclear scientist, Majid Shahriari, was killed in a similar attack the same day. Davani reportedly worked closely with Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s top nuclear scientist, who was killed in an assassination blamed on Israel last year.

Additionally on Monday, Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for the AEO, told Iranian media that he had injured his ankle and head while visiting the Natanz facility after the attack when he fell into a seven-meter-deep hole that had been covered with metal. It is unclear whether the hole was related to the explosion.

Explosives were used to completely destroy the internal power system at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility in an alleged Israel operation, two intelligence officials told The New York Times on Sunday night.

The explosion caused severe damage to the site and it could take at least nine months to restore production at Natanz, according to the officials.

A number of former Israeli security officials expressed concerns at the leaks being shared about the attack, with former Mossad chief Danny Yatom warning that it could impact Israel’s operational capability, in an interview with Army Radio on Monday.

“If indeed this thing is the result of an operation involving Israel, this leak is very serious,” said Yatom. “It is detrimental to the Israeli interest and the fight against Iranian attempts to acquire nuclear weapons. There are actions that must remain in the dark.”

“Once Israeli officials are quoted, it forces the Iranians to take revenge,” warned Yatom. “If the Iranians start investigating with the publication hovering over their heads that the people behind the attack are the Israelis or the Americans, they will leave no stone unturned. This has an impact on our operational capability.”

Iranian officials have downplayed the significance of the attack, with multiple officials stressing that the impacted centrifuges were first generation machines that would be replaced with more advanced centrifuges.

Iran’s permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Kazem Gharibabadi, claimed on Monday that enrichment had not stopped at Natanz, despite foreign media reports to the contrary.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif complained to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres abut the attack, calling it “nuclear terrorism and a war crime.”

“Israel’s efforts aimed at preventing the revival of the international nuclear deal, JCPOA, after the US presidential elections was initially reflected in threats, which are now materialized,” said Zarif, according to Iranian media. The foreign minister added that Iran had accelerated its retaliatory measures against US sanctions in response to the attack.

Saeed Khatibzadeh, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, stated on Monday that Iran would respond to the attack “in its own time.”

“The regime has been carrying out some actions and some news leaks in the last few months. Its goals are clear and not hidden from the elites and intellectuals of Iran,” added Khatibzadeh. “The foreign minister and our delegation are following up on this issue and actions will be announced today or tomorrow. Some actions will be taken in their undisclosed way [and] may never be said.”

An informed official in the Iranian Intelligence Ministry told the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency on Monday that the identity of the disruption’s cause had been found and that “necessary measures are being taken to arrest the main cause of the disruption in the electricity system of Natanz complex.”

This is the second attack on Natanz that foreign reports have blamed on Israel within the past year, with an explosion and fire at the facility in July reportedly impacting Iran’s nuclear program significantly.

Iran is still nowhere near having recovered to the point where it had been before that July 2020 explosion in terms of its capacity for assembling new advanced centrifuges, The Jerusalem Post recently reported.

The most recent attack against Natanz took place a day after Iran began injecting uranium hexafluoride gas into advanced IR-6 and IR-5 centrifuges at Natanz and was revealed as US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was visiting Israel.

Tensions are rising between Israel and Iran amid a number of attacks on Iranian and Israeli maritime vessels, with recent reports claiming that Israel has hit dozens of Iranian ships in recent years. Tensions were already high between the two nations after the Fakhrizadeh assassination and reported attempts by Iran to carry out revenge attacks on Israeli embassies around the world.

The report also comes as Iran meets with European and American officials to discuss a possible return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name for the nuclear agreement signed in 2015 between the Islamic Republic and world powers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned multiple times in the past week that Israel would defend itself against Iranian threats, stressing that Jerusalem would work to combat Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

The prime minister called the security cabinet’s first meeting in two months next Sunday to discuss Iran amid increased tensions with Tehran.

Yonah Jeremy Bob and Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.

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