Another Suspicious Blast in Iran Hits Nuke Program; Israel Attacked in Possible Response

Are Iran and Israel battling each other again? Illustrative photo of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holding up a piece of Iranian UAV used in a prior attack. Photo courtesy of Amos Ben Gershom GPO

Another suspicious blast in Iran targeted Iran’s Natantz nuclear facility last Thursday, just days after a likely missile production site was hit in a separate blast. While Israel is refusing to acknowledge if they were involved, there are concerns Iran may wish to retaliate if they believe Israel was behind the incidents, and on Sunday rocket fire from Gaza at Israel resumed. The IDF Twitter feed reported multiple rockets were launched at Israel, at least one of which was intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.

Attacks on Israel weren’t a surprise. Amos Yadlin, head of The Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, warned last week on Twitter that Iran could seek revenge for the mysterious explosions. He asked if Iran would continue to call the incidents accidents or instead claim they were attacked. “This has a heavy bearing on the response. If Israel is accused by officials, there must be operational readiness for the possibility of an Iranian response (in cyber, missile fire from Syria or an overseas attack),” tweeted Yadlin in a Hebrew post translated by Google.

There have been multiple mysterious explosions in Iran in the last couple weeks, including one last week that hit a workshop used by Iran to develop advanced centrifuges for their nuclear program, according to Iran’s PressTV. Centrifuges are used in the process of turning uranium into nuclear fuel, which can be used for power plants as well as nuclear weapons.

Iran escalated the suspicious nature of the incident when the Spokesman of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), Keyvan Khosravi, said the cause of the blast had been discovered, but that Iran would not disclose it for “some security considerations,” according to the report by PressTV.

In the same report, Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, was cited as confirming to Iran’s IRNA news group that the facility impacted by the explosion was involved in the production of centrifuges. He said that the damage done may result in the slowing down of advance centrifuge development in what PressTV called the “medium term”.  Kamalvandi said they planned to make up for the loss of time by working “round-the-clock”.

According to the Twitter account of the Institute for Science and International Security, “The site of the fire was identified as the new advanced centrifuge assembly workshop, located near the Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant. Both are important features of the Natanz site, w/ the workshop being a critical part of Iran’s plan to deploy 1000s of adv. Centrifuges.”

PressTV noted the damaged facility was inaugurated as a response to the United States’ withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal as part of an effort to prepare to expand Iran’s uranium enrichment program. But while the US would have cause to want to slow down Iran’s nuclear program, they aren’t alone.

Israel has repeatedly said they will work to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, although they aren’t claiming responsibility for the explosions. The Jerusalem Post reported that Defense Minister Benny Gantz demurred on whether or not Israel was involved. Per the report, he told Army Radio that “not every incident” in Iran “necessarily has something to do with us.” Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi was quoted in the same report as saying that some of Israel’s approach is best kept unspoken.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked the head of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen, to extend his time as the spy agency’s director by another six months, until June 2021. According to a press release from Netanyahu’s office, the Israeli leader asked Cohen to keep his post into 2021 “due to the security challenges facing the State of Israel.”

(By Joshua Spurlock, July 5, 2020)

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