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Iran Admits Serious Damage to Natanz Nuclear Site, Setting Back Program

Iran Admits Serious Damage to Natanz Nuclear Site, Setting Back Program

A Middle Eastern intelligence official said Israel planted a bomb in a building where advanced centrifuges were being developed.

ImageAn image released by Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization shows a factory that was damaged at the Natanz enrichment facility.
Credit...Iran Atomic Energy Organization, via Agence France-Presse

A fire at Iran’s main nuclear fuel enrichment site caused significant damage, setting back the country’s nuclear program by months, the government acknowledged on Sunday, after initially saying the destruction was minor.

A Middle Eastern intelligence official with knowledge of the episode said Israel was responsible for the attack on the Natanz nuclear complex on Thursday, using a powerful bomb. A member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps who was briefed on the matter also said an explosive was used.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity when discussing sensitive intelligence and operational topics.

Suspicion in Iran has focused on Israel and the United States, which have sabotaged the nuclear program in the past and have vowed to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons. In the past, Israel and the United States  to damage Iran’s nuclear program, but that has been ruled out as a cause in this case, the Revolutionary Guards member said.

Thoughthere was no way to verify its involvement independently, Israel’s intelligence network has shown its ability to strike in the heart of Iran, breaking into a warehouse in Tehran in 2018 and stealing half a ton of secret records documenting Iran’s nuclear project and spiriting them out of the country. Many of these records were given by Mossad, the Israeli spy agency, to the International Atomic Energy Agency, with many new clues of where Iran might be hiding forbidden equipment and raw material.

If the damage at Natanz was an attack by a foreign power, it reinforces Iran’s vulnerability as its economy is strangled by sanctions imposed by a hostile Trump administration and its population is ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tehran is increasingly isolated internationally; even countries that have opposed U.S. action against Iran recently joined in accusing it of   from international inspectors.

Israeli officials were vague on Sunday when asked about the possibility of involvement in an attack on Natanz, though they stressed the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran.

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