JERUSALEM, Israel – Iran blamed Israel Monday morning for a power failure at its top-secret Natanz nuclear facility on Sunday.
The comments by Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh is the first official accusation against Israel. Israel has remained quiet about the incident.
“The answer for Natanz is to take revenge against Israel,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said. “Israel will receive its answer through its own path.” He did not elaborate.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif separately warned Natanz would be reconstructed with more advanced machines.
“The Zionists wanted to take revenge on the Iranian people over their success on the path of lifting sanctions,” Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency quoted Zairf as saying. “But we do not allow and we will take revenge on this action from the Zionists.”
The alleged attack caused major damage to Natanz's centrifuges and will likely set back Iran’s nuclear program several months, according to unnamed intelligence officials cited by The New York Times.
Iran characterized the blackout as “nuclear terrorism” but did not say what caused the power outage.
The Times reports the blackout appears to have been caused by a “deliberately planned explosion.” The report cited two intelligence officials who had been briefed on the damage. The explosion “completely destroyed the independent — and heavily protected — internal power system that supplies the underground centrifuges that enrich uranium” and “dealt a severe blow to Iran’s ability to enrich uranium,” the paper reported.
The report said it could take Iran at least nine months to restore operations at Natanz.
Israeli media also reported that the power failure was likely triggered by a cyberattack. Israel’s Channel 13 News said the incident caused “severe damage at the heart of Iran’s enrichment program.”
Shortly after news of the power outage broke on Sunday, Israeli media reported that the Mossad was behind the attack. The Times cited American and Israeli intelligence officials who also confirmed Israel’s role in the attack.
While Israeli officials have steered away from claiming responsibility for the damage to Iran’s nuclear program, Israel’s government announced on Sunday that the security cabinet is scheduled to meet next week for the first time in weeks, reportedly to discuss Iran.
Sunday’s incident came as US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin landed in Israel for talks with Netanyahu and Gantz.
“The Tehran of today poses a strategic threat to international security, to the entire Middle East, and to the State of Israel,” Gantz said while meeting with Austin. “And we will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world, of the United States, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region, and protect the State of Israel.”
The United States is engaged in indirect talks with Iran in Vienna to bring the country back into compliance with the nuclear restrictions laid out in the agreement world powers signed with Tehran in 2015. President Joe Biden wants to bring the US back to the agreement after former President Donald Trump pulled out in 2018.
It’s unclear how much warning – if any – the Biden administration received before Sunday’s alleged attack.
However, the extensive damage to the nuclear plant could be a major blow to Iran’s leverage in its new talks with the Biden administration. Iran has said it will continuously violate the deal, including enriching uranium, until Biden rescinds the sanctions imposed by Trump.
“In security and intelligence channels, US officials expressed satisfaction with the damage to the facility,” said Channel 13 News’ defense analyst Alon Ben-David.
This is not the first time Israel has been blamed for sabotaging Iran's nuclear program, which it claims is an existential threat to the Jewish State. Israel was blamed for a mysterious attack on the Natanz nuclear facility last year and for the assassination of Iran's top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in November.
Most recently, Israel is believed to be behind an attack on an Iranian military ship in the Red Sea last week.
Ehud Ya’ari, defense analyst for Israel’s Channel 12 News, said Iran has shown much restraint over the repeated attacks on its nuclear program and said “We’re getting close to the moment” where Iran will have no choice but to respond with a military strike.