Sabotage and terrorism at the nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz Iran in an attack widely attributed to Israel, backed by the United States, comes just as talks are underway in Vienna to revive the Iran nuclear deal.
So what was the real target of the sabotage, the enrichment facility, or the diplomatic talks in Vienna?
On April 10 2021 Iran marked its national nuclear technology day by announcing the implementation of new centrifuges at its enrichment facility in Natanz. Iran's President Rouhani announced the chain of 164 centrifuges, of the IR -6 model of Iran's newer generation centrifuges producing 10 times more than the previous chain.
However, the following day, on Sunday April 11, Iran's Atomic Energy Agency released a statement saying an accident, had taken place at Natanz. Reportedly, a power cut had resulted in damage to some of the centrifuges of an older generation. Very shortly afterwards, it became clear that this wasn't actually the result of an accident, but that of an attack, an act of sabotage.
Again, the chief of Iran's Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Akbar Salehi called it a heinous move and failure, which would not impede Iran's progress.
The New York Times, published a conflicting story saying that it wasn't a power blackout but the result of an explosion, citing unnamed intelligence officials.
Now the first clues about who is responsible for the attack came from Kan, an Israeli public radio which cited "anonymous intelligence sources" that the Israeli spy service, the Mossad, was behind the operation. Elsewhere an Israeli public broadcaster also tweeted that the Mossad was responsible.
There were several other veiled comments from Israeli officials, no less from Netanyahu, who just the day before had said, "the struggle against Iran and its proxies and the Iranian armament efforts is a huge mission, the situation that exists today will not necessarily be the situation that will exist tomorrow".
Israeli Chief of the General Staff, Rav Aluf Aviv Kochavi, also said that "the idea of sanctions throughout the Middle East are [sic] not hidden from our enemy's vision, who are observing us, seeing our capabilities and carefully considering their next steps".
Perhaps the statement was intentionally vague. The timing of these statements in the wake of the attack is certainly peculiar to say the least, the leaks from the Israeli intelligence to the media that Israel was behind the attack definitely annoyed the Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz, who was so angry at the chatter that he ended up calling for an investigation into the issue the day after the attack and the reporting of it in the media.
Now reacting to the incident, China strongly condemned the sabotage at the Natanz facility, Iran's Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, wrote a letter to the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, in which he said "the deliberate targeting of a safeguarded nuclear facility with high risk of indiscriminate release of radioactive material is nuclear terrorism and a war crime".
Shortly after the Israeli attack on the Natanz nuclear facility Iran announced that it will be increasing Uranium enrichment, from 20% to 60%, a milestone that it achieved just a few days later on Friday April 16, despite the sabotage.
Iran has also announced that it will be replacing the damaged IR-1 centrifuges with the newer generation IR-6 model and installing an additional 1000 centrifuges in Natanz, although Israeli media claim the damage to the facility was so extensive that it wouldn't recover for months.
Well that clearly doesn't seem to be the case.
Similarly when Israel killed nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in November 2020, Iran responded by increasing its uranium enrichment to 20% at the time.
Under the JCPOA Iran may only enrich uranium up to 3.67%, however, since the United States unilaterally left the deal, which constitutes significant non performance, Iran has the right under the dispute resolution mechanism to take remedial measures, such as increasing its number of centrifuges, as a pressure tactic for leverage in the diplomatic talks.
Speaking of which this latest act of sabotage at Natanz took place just as talks were underway in Vienna, about how to resume the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the JCPOA, the Iran nuclear deal, which was signed in 2015.
Now, the Joint Commission of the JCPOA has been meeting with the representatives of China, Iran, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the European Union.
So far the Biden administration has still not rejoined the Iran nuclear deal despite promising to do so.
Israel has always been vehemently opposed to the deal, so the timing of the attack on the eve of the talks in Vienna, well, it's unsurprising to say the least.
Even in the past, in peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, whenever there was a glimmer of hope and peace was on the horizon, Israel made sure to sabotage the peace process and then blame the Palestinians in order to make sure that a Palestinian state would never materialize and that the Israeli occupation would continue.
We are now joined by Sharmine Narwani, writer, commentator, political analyst and former senior associate at St Antony's College, Oxford University.
Official the Israeli media have all but admitted that the Mossad was behind the attack that took place at Natanz.
On the one hand, they said it was an explosion, on the other, they said it was a cyber attack and then they went on to say that the facilities at Natanz would set back by at least ten months.
Could you give us an accurate damage assessment and tell us what actually took place at Natanz?
Yeah, so I wasn't there, however, you know, reading the various contradictory media reports, I think what we can ascertain is that whatever happened was related to the power in the facility.
Okay, so the power in that facility is a self enclosed power system, it's not connected to the city of Tehran or (anywhere) outside. So something was done to the power network in the facility.
And as you say the Israelis, and I think now even US officials, have suggested it was the Israelis, and they want it to be known, clearly, that it was the Israelis.
In terms of it being out of commission for a year, that we know is an exaggeration because two days ago the Iranians said that they would enrich uranium at Natanz to 60%, and specifically, in the Ahmadi Roshan part of the facility, that is the part where the power outage took place, so they're going right back into the very same facility that was targeted by the Israelis. So, there is certainly no such thing as a year's delay.
Sharmine Narwani, Commentator and Political Analyst
There have been various reports in the last few days that Iran is going to replace the centrifuges with advanced models, it is going to enrich uranium to 60%.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made it clear that this was a terrorist attack, and Iran reserves the right to respond.
What are some of the other responses that we've seen in the last couple of days?
I just read yesterday that someone who was suspected of carrying out this sabotage, apparently the Iranians have identified an individual. But on Tuesday, three things happened.
One was that the Iranian's said that they would enrich to 60%.
The other [sic] was an attack on an Israeli owned vessel in Fujairah just off the coast of the UAE, and the third was, which we know happened, we know that took place. I don't think Iran has admitted to it.
And the third thing was an attack on supposed Mossad agents in Erbil, several of whom were killed.
Now that has been both denied and confirmed. So we await the final results of that. So, basically, the Israelis did what they did, and the Iranians are not in Vienna because they dragged the other parties there, if anything, it was the other way round.
So the Israelis do these things and the Iranians are miffed because, I mean, they understand fully that this is what Israel does, what Saudi Arabia does, to undermine any progress with Iran, so they're not going to, they're not going to walk out of the talks based on this, but they needed to let them know, including the P5, that they would not tolerate this, and that they would up the ante accordingly.
Now 60% enrichment is not at all weapons grade uranium, even if it was 80%, It is not weapons grade uranium.
So they've enriched just enough to make it significant, to put the others on call, and I think the Iranians have been very disappointed that the IAEA at the top level, and others, have not condemned this but, in fact, turned the focus on Iran's accelerated enrichment.
Sharmine Narwani, Commentator and Political Analyst
The Joint Commission talks in Vienna have just been concluded, do you think, on the whole, that this attack on Natanz has strengthened Iran's position at the negotiating table? Do you think that it leaves them with a stronger hand to play with?
100%. I think the Iranians have even said this has, you know, improved our situation at the (negotiation) table. If the Americans are serious about this, they should literally kick their ally and say okay we're going to accept whatever.
Let's not forget though that Iran did not call for these talks, it is the P5 that called for these talks, and the Americans that are super keen, after having postured for a good few months as Biden took office, they are keen for these talks because they know that, in around two months, Iran will hold a presidential election, and the anticipation is that you will have someone who is less inclined to deal with the West and more hostile toward the West, someone who will be sort of gearing Iran eastwards, and so this is, if you will, Biden's window of opportunity.
So Iran had the leverage going in, right? There was foul play and Iran shows it's willing to ...it can do anything it wants because it's not Iran that needs to be there, it's the other parties, but it hasn't played sour. Iran has turned up at the meetings and is proceeding with goodwill, if you will.
So, let me tell you something really important, basically, the winners and losers in the Middle East, from the Levant to the Persian Gulf, are fairly clear in every battlefield. What is left is attempts to gain leverage, so they can negotiate the peace with something in hand.
And unfortunately for the west, they don't have a lot, you know, they've played their hands in all the theatres. They have gone in directly fighting in wars, they've used proxies, they've sold the highest grade weaponry to their allies in the region.
So these talks are in fact about the remaining P5 members and Iran finding a face saving exit for the US, a face saving way for the Americans to drop the sanctions and accept Iran's terms.
Sharmine Narwani, Commentator and Political Analyst
Since you mentioned chess, you know some people are saying that this, this act of sabotage it's designed to trip Iran up, and it's a trap, basically to force Iran to leave the talks and undermine diplomacy.
And, as you are well aware, there are other parties who are saying that Iran has been too patient and has shown too much goodwill. Iran has been meticulous, so far and one just cannot reason with the West since they won't engage in diplomacy.
Could we have your take on that and how would you describe the overall political atmosphere in Iran and how people are reacting to the decisions that have been made so far?
You know, just today, the Russians and Iranians inked a deal (for Iran) to receive, I think, 60 million Sputnik V vaccines. When the Iranian people are looking at what's happening on the global stage, they are seeing the Americans unwilling to uphold agreements, I mean, actually this is bad for all America's allies in the region because they understand that America is not going to be there to save them anymore, you know, they will not act. I mean don't forget when Iran shot down that $200 million US drone and when Iran shot a dozen ballistic missiles into a US base in Iraq, there was a non reaction, you know.
Sharmine Narwani, Commentator and Political Analyst
I would have loved to be a fly on the wall, you know, in the room that Mohammed bin Zayed and Mohammed bin Salman were in at that moment, you know, What? No reaction! And so I think that the Iranian people see that the Americans walked from the deal and the Iranians are not going to take bold steps towards this deal, because they can't be made to look like fools twice, and nobody has the appetite for it. But again, I think it consolidates this growing view in Iran that when the Americans left, the Chinese bought their oil. They inked a strategic partnership with Iran that is to last 25 years, bring the Belt and road initiative through Iranian territory as you know, and the Russians, and it went,.. just in the last week, Iran has hit the worst stage of the Coronavirus, this pandemic it's had since the beginning, and the Russian stepped up with a vaccine. So, you know, I think Iranians if they're calculating they're looking at who their friends have been in tough times and who have not. Now it's remarkable to me that Israel sabotages Iran's main nuclear facility which, by the way, is compliant 100%, It is under the strictest inspections regime we have ever seen in our history, cameras rolling 24 Seven, Iran, announced to the IAEA prior to going public that they are going to raise enrichment to 60%. They have dotted the I's and crossed the T's yet the Europeans are blaming Iran for this, the scrutiny is now on Iran for taking such a, you know, "unhelpful position", so, the thing is, Iran is not playing with friends. It is very clear, the only ones on Iran's side in these negotiations are the Chinese and the Russians. And particularly the Russians, who stood up yesterday and said the US has to drop all sanctions, you know, plain and simple. And that's actually a fact you know, they walked out of a deal, they have to come back to the deal, that Iran doesn't even have to sit and talk to them. This is a unilateral thing that the US has to do, you know.
Sharmine Narwani, Commentator and Political Analyst
In all probability, by now, Israel knows that it can't do serious damage to Iran's nuclear programme. The Israelis are used to being given Carte blanche and feeling emboldened by the Americans, perhaps they want to see if they can still get away with that kind of behavior under Biden, right, the United States and Israel, they've adopted a strategy here, where they're playing good cop and bad cop, you know, Biden pretends that he wants to reenter the JCPOA, he acts like he's engaging in meaningful diplomacy, and yet he puts ridiculous obstacles in place, saying that Iran has to act first or that only some sanctions will be lifted, and turning a blind eye to Israel's behavior, who you know goes behind the scenes, and carries out terrorist attacks on Iranian soil and on its enrichment facilities. Through feigned diplomacy and violence, the United States and Israel are trying to squeeze Iran on both fronts and pressure them into yielding.
Of course this is not going to work because, as many others have pointed out, Iran did not tolerate four years of Trump just to appease Biden. Now for a moment there was a fear that the talks in Vienna would cease.
However, that did not happen in the end the JCPOA Joint Commission did reconvene and it was decided, ultimately, that work would continue at the expert level.
Iran and the United States have not engaged in direct talks, instead, what they've done is they've had a formation of two working groups. One based on how the United States would end up lifting sanctions on Iran, and how the other group would get Iran to return to the original limits stipulated within the JCPOA.
Now, Iran's deputy foreign minister expressed frustration during the talks in Vienna at the lack of condemnation over Israel's actions, and of course I'm not surprised, because the European powers, basically, said nothing.
China condemned the attack, Russia expressed concern, Iran is calling it nuclear terrorism, which is what it is, but the European powers, of course, who always side with Israel and the United States, have basically said nothing.
These acts of sabotage and terror should have been condemned by, you know, European countries and E3, We are somehow satisfied with the positions taken by Russia and China. But in fact, the Europeans, not only ignored this important act of terror or sabotage, but also they were busy to impose new sanctions on Iran.
Abbas Araqchi, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister
When asked about this act of sabotage at Natanz, the White House spokesperson Jen Psaki not only denied any involvement but any knowledge as well.
I wanted to ask about the attack on Iran's Natanz nuclear facility, Is there concern within the White House that this would derail ongoing talks to establish the Iran nuclear deal And has there been any effort by the administration to reach out through intermediaries or any other way to Iran and make clear that the US wasn't involved in these attacks in the attack?
US Journalist at White House Press Briefing
Well I, we of course have seen the reports of the incident at the Natanz enrichment facility, the US was not involved in any manner. We have nothing to add on speculation about the causes or the impacts I will say on your first question, though, we are focused on the discussions that we expect to proceed this Wednesday in Vienna to the diplomatic discussions that are that have been taking place and took place last week, they were, we expect them to be difficult and long, we have not been given any indication about a change in participation for these discussions.
Jen Psaki, Whitehouse Spokesperson
Further pointing towards Israel and American involvement the US Defence Secretary, Lloyd Austin, just so happened to make a visit to the Israeli occupation, right on the verge of the attack.
Is that just a coincidence? The timing is definitely odd, to say the very least. Not only that, but Austin made no mention of the incident which seems to indicate that the United States was likely in on it, or at best, turning a blind eye to Israel's behavior.
The United States and Israel also collaborated on a forum recently established, secretly, during the Obama years in order to exchange information on Iran's nuclear programme, and where Israel effectively dictates to the Americans, what it would like to see in a potential agreement.
What's interesting, and, of course, very telling, is seeing the various headlines in the international press about the attacks at Natanz; almost all of them say in the headline that Iran blames Israel.
But if you look just underneath, and you actually read the article, it says very clearly that Israeli media and radio, are the ones who first reported the Mossad as being responsible.
This is like with the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists, even when we know and have confirmation that Israel is behind these killings, the media refuses to report honestly on them and helps to mask Israel's crimes.
This is a great way to do propaganda. Not only are the media obfuscating Israel's role, as if it's unconfirmed or uncertain, but on top of that, they make it look like Iran is the aggressor and trying to unfairly blame Israel just for the sake of blaming Israel.
It is not without just cause that people's first instinct was to think that Israel was behind this attack at Natanz.
Israel, in cooperation with the United States, has done this before.
Just last year, in July 2020, there was an explosion at the exact same nuclear facility in Natanz.
This was confirmed to have been perpetrated by Israel during an interview with Army Radio Israel's former Defence Minister Lieberman, expressed how he was annoyed at Yossi Cohen, head of Israel's spy agency the Mossad, for divulging details about that very same attack to the New York Times.
Prior rior to that, between 2010 and 2012, Israel proceeded to assassinate four Iranian nuclear scientists.
Just a few months ago in November 2020, we saw yet another Iranian nuclear scientist killed, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
In 2010 Israel and the United States worked on a joint project to sabotage Iran's nuclear programme, the Mossad and the Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA worked together to develop a computer virus, named Stuxnet.
This computer virus was used to sabotage centrifuges, by making them spin at three times the recommended rate, and then break. Once again the target was the nuclear facility at Natanz.
Given this recent history, and Israel's track record and joint operations with the United States in attacking Iran and sabotaging its nuclear programme, One has a very hard time believing that the United States was not involved and didn't know about this, and didn't help in any capacity.
If nothing else, the fact that the United States gives Israel $3.8 billion a year in military aid makes the United States complicit. But of course their relationship extends far beyond just a yearly aid package.
The Americans provide logistical support, intelligence, weapons, and have carried out numerous joint operations with the Israelis against Iran and its allies.
It's unfortunate that despite years of diplomacy and goodwill on the part of Iran and other parties to the JCPOA that the United States, and its European allies, never really upheld their end of the deal, but, perhaps out of all this, there's still a silver lining in these clouds.
An experiment was held, and a lesson was learned, which is that the West can't really be trusted to engage in lasting and meaningful diplomacy, because even when Iran does fulfill its obligations and does its best to comply, even when it is verified by the IAEA, the United States still refuses to hold up its end of the deal and allows its strongest ally to carry out acts of terrorism in order to undermine diplomatic efforts.
The JCPOA was signed in October 2015. Trump pulled out in May 2018. It's now April 2021, two administrations later, and the United States has spent more time outside the nuclear deal than in it.
How can anyone look at this situation objectively and say that the United States is acting in good faith?
What kind of message is that sending to Iran, to other countries, to the world?
Israel knows that Iran cannot develop a nuclear weapon with the eyes of the world on it. Of course, Iran has the capability in the minds of its scientists, but with the IAEA 24/7 monitoring under the Additional Protocol, the JCPOA and the whole world watching, it's simply not feasible.
Israel wants to crush Iran's defence capabilities and won't be happy unless Washington makes a nuclear deal V2.0, which limits Iran's ballistic missile programme as well as their support for Palestinian, Lebanese, Iraqi, and Syrian resistance, which of course, Iran will never agree to.
As is common knowledge, Israel is the only actor in the Middle East with nuclear weapons yet Israel has refused to join the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, Israel has refused to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention, Israel has bombed and invaded every neighbouring country including Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq.
Israel has no 24/7 monitoring of its nuclear activities. There are no IAEA inspectors or safeguards there.
Israel regularly allows itself to go and murder foreign scientists in Iran, to carry out acts of nuclear sabotage and nuclear terrorism with impunity. This is criminal.
Can you imagine the reaction if Iran was killing Israeli scientists in broad daylight in Palestine or blowing up Israeli centrifuges?
Can you imagine what would happen if Iran was sabotaging Israeli nuclear installations?
Israel would declare war within the hour. The United States and all of NATO would join in, the international community and the United Nations would lose its composure.
Yet, somehow, when Israel does it, everyone is silent. The next time Netanyahu is talking about malign activities in the region and terrorism; he should go ahead and look in a mirror.
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