Growing suspicions, frustration between US and Israel over Iran deal — report

Posted April 22, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Media reports describe feelings of lack of trust and transparency as Washington moves to reenter pact Israel despises; Jerusalem said still hoping to bridge gaps

Then-US vice president Joe Biden, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, talk before a dinner at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, March 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Baz Ratner, Pool)

Then-US vice president Joe Biden, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, talk before a dinner at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, March 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Baz Ratner, Pool)

As international negotiations progress on restoring the 2015 accord limiting Iran’s nuclear program, suspicion is growing between Israel and the US as the Biden administration looks to rejoin the accord, according to a report Wednesday.

Officials told Axios that National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat had raised Israeli worry with American officials that Jerusalem’s concerns were not being given proper consideration as Washington attempts to reenter the deal. Israeli officials said the Americans countered that Israel was not sufficiently heeding the administration’s request for “no surprises” from either side concerning Iran policy.

The report described growing frustration on both sides over feelings of lack of trust and insufficient transparency.

Despite the disagreements between the sides, an Israeli official told the Walla news site that Israel was still holding out hope it could influence the US position.

“We don’t think everything is lost and as long as we have the opportunity to voice our stance, we are going to try in the hope that we’ll succeed,” the unnamed official said.

The comments came before Israeli security chiefs fly to Washington next week for high-level talks on Iran.

According to Walla, they will meet Thursday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi to coordinate their discussions with their American counterparts.

Among the officials set to travel to the US are Ben-Shabbat, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and Military Intelligence commander Tamir Hayman.

Noting that most talks with the new administration have been held by phone or video conference, the unnamed official told Walla that next week’s face-to-face meetings would illustrate to Israel how large the gap is with the US concerning policy toward Iran.

The nations set up a strategic group, which last convened on April 13, to coordinate their efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear arms. The group is led by Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart Ben-Shabbat.

Israeli National Security Council chairman Meir Ben-Shabbat (left), and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. (Flash90, AP)

Two Israeli officials familiar with those meetings told Walla that they exposed the gaps between the countries on how best to address Iran’s nuclear program.

The officials also said that it was the US that was not being transparent about the offers so far made to Iran, a claim rejected by a senior administration official.

The report came a day after Kan news said Israel was lobbying the US to push for improved international oversight of Iran’s nuclear program, having concluded there will not be significant changes to the treaty but nonetheless seeking to slightly improve the terms of the pact.

Israel was said to have conceded that the deal will be renewed without addressing its concerns about Tehran’s ballistic missile program and support for terror groups.

A separate report this week said Israeli officials have expressed concern that Biden will rush to rejoin the nuclear deal, arguing that Washington’s negotiating power is compromised by its eagerness to clinch a pact.

In this September 24, 2017 file photo, surface-to-surface missiles and a portrait of the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are displayed by the Revolutionary Guard. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

As the efforts to restore the nuclear pact continued, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday that 60-70 percent of issues had been resolved. A spokesman for the US State Department, however, said that while the talks were positive, “we have more road ahead of us than in the rearview mirror.”

The Biden administration has repeatedly said it will return to the nuclear deal if Iran first returns to compliance. Iran has taken a hardline approach, demanding the US lift all sanctions against it first, putting the two sides at a stalemate.

Israeli officials, including Netanyahu, have adamantly opposed the US returning to the nuclear deal, putting Jerusalem at odds with the new White House administration.

Critics have long said that the deal fails to address Iran’s development of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles that can reach Israel and parts of Europe and its constant funding and support of terror groups like Hezbollah.

You’r

UN atomic agency: Iran has installed additional advanced centrifuges at Natanz

Posted April 22, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

IAEA records 8 new cascades at underground nuclear site hit in blast blamed on Israel; says Islamic Republic planning to add more

A handout picture provided by the Iranian presidential office on Saturday, April 10, shows a video conference screen of an engineer inside Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment plant (Iranian Presidency/AFP)

A handout picture provided by the Iranian presidential office on Saturday, April 10, shows a video conference screen of an engineer inside Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment plant (Iranian Presidency/AFP)

The UN atomic agency on Wednesday said Iran has installed additional advanced centrifuges at its Natanz nuclear plant, the site of a recent blast blamed on Israel.

According to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, seen by Reuters, Iran added two more cascades of IR-4 centrifuges and six clusters of IR-2m at its  underground facility. The IAEA also confirmed that some of the centrifuges were in use and said the Islamic Republic plans to install another four cascades of the IR-4 at Natanz.

“On 21 April 2021, the Agency verified at FEP that: … six cascades of up to 1,044 IR-2m centrifuges; and two cascades of up to 348 IR-4 centrifuges… were installed, of which a number were being used,” the report said.

On April 10, Iran announced that it started up far more advanced IR-6 and IR-5 centrifuges that enrich uranium more quickly, in a new breach of its undertakings under the 2015 nuclear agreement. It also said it has began mechanical tests on an even faster nuclear centrifuge: The output of Iran’s IR-9 centrifuge, when operational, would be 50 times quicker than the first Iranian centrifuge, the IR-1. Iran’s nuclear program is also developing IR-8 centrifuges.

Early the next morning, the site was hit in the blast that was declared by Iran to be Israeli sabotage. The explosion is said to have caused considerable damage to the Natanz plant, including its various uranium-enriching centrifuges.

This satellite photo provided from Planet Labs Inc. shows Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility on Wednesday, April 14, 2021. Iran began enriching uranium Friday, April 16, 2021, to its highest level ever at Natanz, edging closer to weapons-grade levels to pressure talks in Vienna aimed at restoring its nuclear deal with world powers after an attack on the site. (Planet Labs via AP)

In response to the attack, Iran said it began enriching a small amount of uranium up to 60 percent purity at the site — its highest level ever, and a short step from weapons-grade. The UN atomic agency confirmed the enrichment, saying it was being done in an above-ground facility at Natanz.

The head of the country’s atomic agency said Tuesday that power has been restored at Natanz and uranium enrichment activities there have been renewed. Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, was cited by the official IRNA news agency as saying that “the cables damaged in the accident were speedily replaced and… the main power supply to the Natanz enrichment facility [is] now connected to the grid.”

Salehi told lawmakers during a parliamentary committee meeting that “thanks to the timely measures taken, enrichment in Natanz never stopped, even when the main power cable was cut,” according to the report.

He also reportedly said that Iran’s enemies, among them Israel, have repeatedly attempted to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program, but claimed all the plots were foiled.

Iranian officials have blamed Israel for the April 11 attack at Natanz.

The report did not include any images of the enrichment activities that Salehi said had resumed.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, right, is shown new centrifuges and listens to head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi, while visiting an exhibition of Iran’s new nuclear achievements in Tehran, Iran, April 10, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AFP)

His comments came as a New York Times report said Iran’s nuclear enrichment program at Natanz has slowed down due to increased security measures implemented following the recent blast.

Despite the reported damage, Iranian state TV aired footage earlier this week from what it said were regular operations at Natanz. The spot included a short interview with an unnamed worker at the site who said that the staff was working around the clock to resume uranium enrichment.

Israeli and American media have reported that a 150-kilogram bomb took out Natanz’s main and backup power supplies and caused damage setting back the enrichment process by months.

In this image made from April 17, 2021 video released by the Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, Iran. (IRIB via AP, File)

A senior Iranian official said last Tuesday that the blast destroyed or damaged thousands of centrifuges used to enrich uranium. Alireza Zakani, the hardline head of the Iranian parliament’s research center, referred to “several thousand centrifuges damaged and destroyed” in a state TV interview. However, no other official has offered that figure and no images of the aftermath have been released.

The blast was initially described only as a blackout in the electrical grid feeding aboveground workshops and underground enrichment halls, but Iranian officials later began calling it an attack.

Last Monday, an Iranian official acknowledged that the blast took out the plant’s main electrical power system and its backup. “From a technical standpoint, the enemy’s plan was rather beautiful,” Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, the head of the Iranian parliament’s energy committee, told Iranian state television.

“They thought about this and used their experts and planned the explosion so both the central power and the emergency power cable would be damaged.”

The New York Times reported that the blast was caused by a bomb that was smuggled into the plant and then detonated remotely. The report cited an unnamed intelligence official, without specifying whether they were American or Israeli. The official also noted that the blast took out Natanz’s primary electrical system as well as its backup.

A passport-style photo published by Iranian state television shows Reza Karimi, 43, whom Tehran says was behind the sabotage at Natanz on April 11 that it has blamed on Israel (video screenshot)

On Saturday, Iran state television named 43-year-old Reza Karimi as a suspect in last week’s attack, saying he had since fled the country. The report showed a passport-style photograph of a man it identified as Karimi, saying he was born in the nearby city of Kashan, Iran.

The Iranian foreign ministry accused Israel of an act of “nuclear terrorism” and vowed revenge.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement, but public radio reports said it was a sabotage operation by the Mossad spy agency, citing unnamed intelligence sources. The New York Times, quoting unnamed US and Israeli intelligence officials, also said there had been “an Israeli role” in the attack.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Saeed Khatibzadeh, last week indirectly accused Israel of attempting to scuttle talks underway in Vienna aimed at reviving a landmark nuclear agreement. The talks are focused on bringing the US back into the accord after former US president Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Tehran, and to bring Iran back into compliance with key nuclear commitments it suspended in response to the sanctions.

Iran rattled as Israel repeatedly strikes key targets

Posted April 21, 2021 by davidking1530
Categories: Uncategorized

Ha ha ha, suckers.

Long article, but it’s full of good news, mentions many “accidents” (which I have bolded).

Hadn’t heard about the a few of these “accidents,” such as the first one mentioned which sounds like typical Mossad style.

https://www.theage.com.au/world/middle-east/iran-rattled-as-israel-repeatedly-strikes-key-targets-20210421-p57l5u.html

The killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, whose funeral on November 30 is pictured, was only one of a string of attacks aimed at the heart of Iran’s nuclear program.

Beirut: In less than nine months, an assassin on a motorbike fatally shot an al-Qaeda commander given refuge in Tehran, Iran’s chief nuclear scientist was machine-gunned down on a country road, and two separate, mysterious explosions rocked a key Iranian nuclear facility in the desert, striking the heart of the country’s efforts to enrich uranium.

The steady drumbeat of attacks, which intelligence officials said were carried out by Israel, highlighted the seeming ease with which Israeli intelligence was able to reach deep inside its neighbour’s borders and repeatedly strike its most heavily guarded targets, often with the help of turncoats.

The attacks, the latest wave in more than two decades of sabotage and assassinations, have exposed embarrassing security lapses and left Iran’s leaders looking over their shoulders as they pursue negotiations with the Biden administration aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear agreement.

The recriminations have been caustic.

The head of parliament’s strategic centre said Iran had turned into a “haven for spies.” The former commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard called for an overhaul of the country’s security and intelligence apparatus. Lawmakers have demanded the resignation of top security and intelligence officials.

Most alarming for Iran, Iranian officials and analysts said, was that the attacks revealed that Israel had an effective network of collaborators inside Iran and that Iranian intelligence services had failed to find the moles.

“That the Israelis are effectively able to hit Iran inside in such a brazen way is hugely embarrassing and demonstrates a weakness that I think plays poorly inside Iran,” said Sanam Vakil, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House.

The attacks have also cast a cloud of paranoia over a country that now sees foreign plots in every mishap.

Over the weekend, Iranian state television flashed a photograph of a man said to be Reza Karimi, 43, and accused him of being the “perpetrator of sabotage” in an explosion at the Natanz nuclear enrichment plant last month. But it was unclear who he was, whether he had acted alone and if that was even his real name. In any case, he had fled the country before the blast, Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said.

On Monday, after Iranian state news media reported that Brigadier General Mohammad Hosseinzadeh Hejazi, the deputy commander of the Quds Force, the foreign arm of the Revolutionary Guard, had died of heart disease, there were immediate suspicions of foul play.

Hejazi had long been a target of Israeli espionage, and the son of another prominent Quds Force commander insisted on Twitter that Hejazi’s death was “not cardiac-related”.

A Revolutionary Guard spokesman failed to clear the air with a statement saying the general had died of the combined effects of “extremely difficult assignments,” a recent COVID-19 infection and exposure to chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war.

The general would have been the third high-ranking Iranian military official to be assassinated in the last 15 months. The United States killed General Qasem Soleimani, the leader of the Quds Force, in January 2020. Israel assassinated Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s chief nuclear scientist and a brigadier general in the Revolutionary Guard, in November.

Even if Hejazi died of natural causes, the cumulative loss of three top generals was a significant blow.

The attacks represent an uptick in a long-running campaign by the intelligence services of Israel and the United States to subvert what they consider to be Iran’s threatening activities.

Chief among them are a nuclear program that Iran insists is peaceful, Iran’s investment in proxy militias across the Arab world, and its development of precision-guided missiles for Hezbollah, the militant movement in Lebanon.

An Israeli military intelligence document in 2019 said that Hejazi was a leading figure in the last two, as the commander of the Lebanese corps of the Quds Force and the leader of the guided missile project. Revolutionary Guard spokesman Ramezan Sharif said that Israel wanted to assassinate Hejazi.

Israel has been working to derail Iran’s nuclear program, which it considers a mortal threat, since it began. Israel is believed to have started assassinating key figures in the program in 2007, when a nuclear scientist at a uranium plant in Isfahan died in a mysterious gas leak.

In the years since, six other scientists and military officials have been assassinated. A seventh was wounded.

Another top Quds Force commander, Rostam Ghasemi, said recently that he had narrowly escaped an Israeli assassination attempt during a visit to Lebanon in March.

But assassination is just one tool in a campaign that operates on multiple levels and fronts.

In 2018, Israel carried out a daring night-time raid to steal 450 kilograms of secret nuclear program archives from a warehouse in Tehran.

Israel has also reached around the world, tracking down equipment in other countries that is bound for Iran, to destroy it, conceal transponders in its packaging or install explosive devices to be detonated after the gear has been installed inside of Iran, according to a former high-ranking US intelligence official.

A former Israeli intelligence operative said that to compromise such equipment, she and another officer would drive by the factory and stage a crisis, such as a car accident or a heart attack, and the woman would appeal to the guards for help. That would get her enough access to the facility to identify its security system so that another team could break in and disable it, she said, speaking on condition of anonymity because she was not authorised to discuss covert operations.

In an interview on Iranian state television last week, Iran’s former nuclear chief revealed the origins of an explosion in the Natanz nuclear plant in July. The explosives had been sealed inside a heavy desk that had been placed in the plant months earlier, said Fereydoon Abbasi-Davani, the former chief of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation.

The explosion ripped through a factory producing a new generation of centrifuges, setting back Iran’s nuclear enrichment program by months, officials said.

Alireza Zakani, head of parliament’s research centre, said Tuesday that in another case machinery from a nuclear site had been sent abroad for repair and was returned to Iran with 300 pounds of explosives packed inside it.

Little is known about the more recent explosion at Natanz this month except that it destroyed the plant’s independent power system, which in turn destroyed thousands of centrifuges.

It would have been difficult for Israel to carry out these operations without inside help from Iranians, and that may be what rankles Iran most.

Security officials in Iran have prosecuted several Iranian citizens over the past decade, charging them with complicity in Israeli sabotage and assassination operations. The penalty is execution.

But the infiltrations have also sullied the reputation of the intelligence wing of the Revolutionary Guard, which is responsible for guarding nuclear sites and scientists.

A former Guard commander demanded a “cleansing” of the intelligence service, and Iran’s vice president, Eshaq Jahangiri, said that the unit responsible for security at Natanz should be “be held accountable for its failures”.

The deputy head of parliament, Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, told the Iranian news media on Monday that it was no longer enough to blame Israel and the United States for such attacks. Iran needed to clean its own house.

As a publication affiliated with the Guard, Mashregh News, put it last week: “Why does the security of the nuclear facility act so irresponsibly that it gets hit twice from the same hole?”

But the Revolutionary Guard answers only to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and so far there has been no sign of a top-down reshuffling.

After each attack, Iran has struggled to respond, sometimes claiming to have identified those responsible only after they had left the country or saying that they remained at large. Iranian officials also insist that they have foiled other attacks.

Calls for retaliation grow louder after each attack. Conservatives have accused the government of President Hassan Rouhani of weakness or of subjugating the country’s security to the nuclear talks in hopes they will lead to relief from US sanctions.

Indeed, Iranian officials shifted to what they called “strategic patience” in the last year of the Trump administration, calculating that Israel sought to goad them into an open conflict that would eliminate the possibility of negotiations with a new Democratic administration.

Both Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have said they would not allow the attacks to derail the negotiations because lifting sanctions was the priority.

It is also possible that Iran has tried to retaliate but failed.

Iran was blamed for a bomb that exploded near Israel’s Embassy in New Delhi in January, and 15 militants linked to Iran were arrested last month in Ethiopia for plotting to attack Israeli, American and Emirati targets.

But any overt retaliation risks an overwhelming Israeli response.

“They are not in a hurry to start a war,” said Talal Atrissi, a political science professor at the Lebanese University in Beirut. “Retaliation means war.”

Conversely, the timing of Israel’s latest attack on Natanz suggested that Israel sought if not to derail the talks, to at least weaken Iran’s bargaining power. Israel opposed the 2015 nuclear agreement and opposes its resurrection.

The United States, seeking to negotiate with Iran in Vienna, said it was not involved in the attack but has not publicly criticised it either.

And if the repeated Israeli attacks had the effect of fomenting a national paranoia, an intelligence official said, that was a side benefit for Israel. The additional steps Iran has taken to scan buildings for surveillance devices and plumb employees’ backgrounds to root out potential spies has slowed down the enrichment work, the official said.

The conventional wisdom is that neither side wants full-scale war and is counting on the other not to escalate. But at the same time, the covert, region-wide shadow war between Israel and Iran has intensified with Israeli airstrikes on Iranian-backed militias in Syria and tit for tat attacks on ships.

But as Iran faces a struggling economy, rampant COVID-19 infections and other problems of poor governance, the pressure is on to reach a new agreement soon to remove economic sanctions, said Vakil of Chatham House.

“These low-level, gray zone attacks reveal that the Islamic Republic urgently needs to get the JCPOA back into a box” to free up resources to address its other problems, she said, referring to the nuclear deal, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The New York Times

Top Iran official: Power fully restored at Natanz, enrichment renewed

Posted April 21, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized


Ali Akbar Salehi, head of country’s atomic agency, claims enrichment at key nuclear site never stopped following blast blamed on Israel

By TOI STAFF20 April 2021, 10:42 pm  

File: The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi delivers his speech at the opening of the general conference of the IAEA in Vienna, Austria, September 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi delivers his speech at the opening of the general conference of the IAEA in Vienna, Austria, September 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

Power has been restored in Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility and uranium enrichment activities there have been renewed after a blast at the site earlier this month, the head of the country’s atomic agency said Tuesday.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, was cited by the official IRNA news agency as saying that “the cables damaged in the accident were speedily replaced and… the main power supply to the Natanz enrichment facility [is] now connected to the grid.”

Salehi told lawmakers during a parliamentary committee meeting that “thanks to the timely measures taken, enrichment in Natanz never stopped, even when the main power cable was cut,” according to the report.

He also reportedly said that Iran’s enemies, among them Israel, have repeatedly attempted to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program, but claimed all the plots were foiled.

Iranian officials have blamed Israel for the April 11 attack at Natanz.

The report did not include any images of the enrichment activities that Salehi said had resumed.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, right, is shown new centrifuges and listens to head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi, while visiting an exhibition of Iran’s new nuclear achievements in Tehran, Iran, April 10, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AFP)

His comments came as a New York Times report said Iran’s nuclear enrichment program at Natanz has slowed down due to increased security measures implemented following the recent blast.

The explosion is said to have caused considerable damage to the Natanz plant, including its various uranium-enriching centrifuges.

In response to the attack, Iran said it began enriching a small amount of uranium up to 60 percent purity at the site — its highest level ever, and a short step from weapons-grade. The UN atomic agency confirmed the enrichment, saying it was being done in an above-ground facility at Natanz.

Despite the reported damage, Iranian state TV aired footage earlier this week from what it said were regular operations at Natanz. The spot included a short interview with an unnamed worker at the site who said that the staff was working around the clock to resume uranium enrichment.

Israeli and American media have reported that a 150-kilogram bomb took out Natanz’s main and backup power supplies and caused damage setting back the enrichment process by months.

In this image made from April 17, 2021 video released by the Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, Iran. (IRIB via AP, File)

A senior Iranian official said last Tuesday that the blast destroyed or damaged thousands of centrifuges used to enrich uranium. Alireza Zakani, the hardline head of the Iranian parliament’s research center, referred to “several thousand centrifuges damaged and destroyed” in a state TV interview. However, no other official has offered that figure and no images of the aftermath have been released.

The blast was initially described only as a blackout in the electrical grid feeding aboveground workshops and underground enrichment halls, but Iranian officials later began calling it an attack.

Last Monday, an Iranian official acknowledged that the blast took out the plant’s main electrical power system and its backup. “From a technical standpoint, the enemy’s plan was rather beautiful,” Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, the head of the Iranian parliament’s energy committee, told Iranian state television.

“They thought about this and used their experts and planned the explosion so both the central power and the emergency power cable would be damaged.”

The New York Times reported that the blast was caused by a bomb that was smuggled into the plant and then detonated remotely. The report cited an unnamed intelligence official, without specifying whether they were American or Israeli. The official also noted that the blast took out Natanz’s primary electrical system as well as its backup

.

A passport-style photo published by Iranian state television shows Reza Karimi, 43, whom Tehran says was behind the sabotage at Natanz on April 11 that it has blamed on Israel (video screenshot)

On Saturday, Iran state television named 43-year-old Reza Karimi as a suspect in last week’s attack, saying he had since fled the country. The report showed a passport-style photograph of a man it identified as Karimi, saying he was born in the nearby city of Kashan, Iran.

The Iranian foreign ministry accused Israel of an act of “nuclear terrorism” and vowed revenge.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement, but public radio reports said it was a sabotage operation by the Mossad spy agency, citing unnamed intelligence sources. The New York Times, quoting unnamed US and Israeli intelligence officials, also said there had been “an Israeli role” in the attack.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Saeed Khatibzadeh, last week indirectly accused Israel of attempting to scuttle talks underway in Vienna aimed at reviving a landmark nuclear agreement.

The talks are focused on bringing the US back into the accord after former US president Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Tehran, and to bring Iran back into compliance with key nuclear commitments it suspended in response to the sanctions.

Israel Celebrates its 73rd Birthday Amid Nuclear Threats from Iran

Posted April 21, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

The West’s shameful Iranian capitulation

Posted April 15, 2021 by davidking1530
Categories: Uncategorized

https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/the-west-s-shameful-iranian-surrender

On a sweltering day in July 2018, German police pulled over a scarlet Ford S-Max hire car that was travelling at speed towards Austria. The driver, Assadollah Assadi, the third secretary to the Iranian embassy in Vienna, was arrested at gunpoint and taken into custody.

Although unusual, there was a good reason for detaining the diplomat: Assadi had used his immunity to smuggle a bomb on a commercial airliner from Tehran to Austria, intending to carry out what would have been one of Europe’s worst atrocities in recent years.

Once in Vienna, he had handed the device — codenamed the ‘Playstation’ — to two married Belgian-Iranian agents, Amir Saadouni and Nasimeh Naami, and instructed them to blow up an anti-regime event in Paris, which was to be attended by dignitaries including Rudy Giuliani and former environment secretary Theresa Villiers.

The plot was thwarted on the day of the attack after a tip-off from Mossad, saving hundreds of lives. Assadi was arrested the following day while pursuing diplomatic refuge in Austria. But as we reported in this week’s Jewish Chronicle, the treasure trove of evidence inside the vehicle should have set off alarm bells in European corridors of power — alarm bells that should be sounding especially loudly today.

The car was effectively being used as a mobile intelligence station to run agents. It contained handwritten records of trips to 289 locations in 22 cities across Europe as well as notes on bomb handling and ideas for attacks using acid and toxic pathogenic substances. Also discovered were receipts for expense reimbursements and salary payments to spies, details of computers issued to them, numerous mobile phones and GPS devices, and more than €30,000 (£26,000) in cash. In short, it revealed an Iranian espionage network in Europe that was startling in both its scale and scope.’The plot may have been a wake-up call, but the Europeans tend to wake up from time to time, then fall asleep again’

When seen in the light of the political context at the time, the arrest seemed almost ironic. Not eight weeks previously, Donald Trump had pulled America out of the nuclear deal with Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), reimposing ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions on the theocracy. The Europeans were appalled.

One of Washington’s main reasons for leaving the deal, signed by the Obama administration in 2015, was that lifting sanctions allowed Tehran to fund extensive terror networks, proxy militia and missile emplacements overseas. But even while investigators were poring over the material found inside Assadi’s scarlet Ford S-Max, policymakers in Europe’s capitals were busy designing a mechanism to allow Iran to continue to trade behind the backs of the Americans. The system, known as ‘Instex’, was launched five months later, in an attempt to neuter the deterrent from Washington.

This bizarre state of affairs cannot be overemphasised. Exhibit A: Tehran activates its extensive spy network in an attempt to blow up hundreds of civilians on the streets of Paris. Exhibit B: the Europeans try to undermine American pressure on the theocracy, shovelling more money into its maw. A cynic might call it suicide by diplomacy.

This week, history is repeating itself. Eight weeks ago, an Antwerp court sentenced Assadi and his three co-conspirators to between 15 and 20 years in prison. This was the first conviction of an Iranian official for terrorism offences since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Yet this week, the European powers pressed ahead with direct negotiations with Tehran in Vienna, aimed at expunging all trace of the Trump years and restoring the nuclear deal. By all accounts, progress was swift: a few days of discussions resulted in a ‘roadmap’ that could lead to a new agreement in as little as two months.

The Ayatollahs have never been in any doubt that the Europeans are in the palms of their hands. The only sanctions insisted on by Europe last week were symbolic restrictions on a small number of Iranian officials, a gesture of solidarity for dual nationals held hostage in Iranian prisons. Aside from this, there was simply no disguising the enthusiasm for welcoming the malignant theocracy back into the fold.

To make matters worse, in the post-Trump era, Washington is equally wide-eyed. Returning to the Obama deal has become a political pose to this new administration, which pursues it like an article of faith. It took Joe Biden just 11 weeks to go from being elected as 46th President of the United States to commencing new nuclear negotiations with Iran.

In fact, even before he entered the Oval Office, Biden had publicly telegraphed his intentions to reheat Obama’s JCPOA. In an article for CNN last September, he argued that President Trump had ‘recklessly tossed away a policy that was working to keep America safe and replaced it with one that has worsened the threat’. The Iranians, shall we say, were hardly kept guessing about America’s negotiating objectives. This was the David Cameron-Theresa May school of negotiations that produced such truly exemplary results during the Brexit era.

Unsurprisingly enough, Tehran’s foreign minister, Seyed Araghchi, opened the talks by playing hardball, insisting that all sanctions imposed since 2016 — including those unrelated to its nuclear programme — be lifted before any return to compliance. This would mean a fresh wave of dollars breaking on the shores of the Islamic Republic, allowing it to kick-start its beleaguered economy with oil exports and return to a fully functional banking system. Only then — with the influx of cash being toasted by terror cells from Sudan to Vienna — would the theocracy consider curtailing its nuclear ambitions. Or rather, consider agreeing to do so.

The United States, negotiating at arm’s length via its European allies around the table in Vienna, responded feebly by suggesting a step-by-step approach. ‘I think what essentially ruled out are the maximalist demands that the United States do everything first and only in turn would Iran then act,’ Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, said. But there was never any doubt about the American endgame.

There are two Iranian spy networks in the West. The first, Department 312 of Tehran’s Ministry Of Intelligence and Security, aims at infiltrating, intimidating and assassinating Iranian dissidents who have gone into exile to campaign against the theocracy. That is the ring that was exposed in 2018 and is now being rebuilt.

The second targets Israelis, whether representatives of the state or civilians. The latter espionage group has the more difficult task. Iran knows full well that any aggressive action against Israeli citizens will meet with swift retaliation.

Israel, as the single country most threatened by Tehran (intelligence sources estimate that 80 per cent of threats against the Jewish state emanate from the theocracy) does not, shall we say, buy into the transatlantic policy of appeasement. Last week,  Benjamin Netanyahu made his position clear ahead of a visit to Jerusalem by the new US secretary of defence, General Lloyd Austin, a visit designed to calm Israeli nerves over the impending nuclear deal. ‘These type of deals with extremist regimes are worth nothing,’ he said. ‘A deal with Iran that threatens us with annihilation will not obligate us.’

Speaking on Holocaust Remembrance Day, he added: ‘Only one thing will obligate us: to prevent those who wish to destroy us from carrying out their plans.’ On Sunday, an unexplained ‘incident’ occurred at Iran’s nuclear facility in Natanz — which had just started using more advanced centrifuges — taking out its electrical distribution grid.

In sharp contrast with Israel, whatever the opposite of retaliation is, Europe is following that policy. In the somnambulant haze that hangs in the continent’s corridors of power, even a fully armed bomb, built in Tehran and on its way to delivery to a rally of thousands of people in central Paris, is not enough to raise serious hesitations abut the intentions of the Iranian regime. The planned attack in the heart of France was generally viewed, amazingly enough, as an internal Iranian issue. The security services uprooted the spy network, then returned to business as usual. As one source familiar with the matter told me: ‘The plot may have been a wake-up call, but the Europeans tend to wake up from time to time, then fall asleep again.’ And this time, Europe and America are in lockstep. One can only hope that they are not sleepwalking to their own destruction.

Netanyahu to visiting US defense secretary: We won’t let Iran obtain nukes

Posted April 14, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Following attack on Iran’s Natanz facility, which has been blamed on Israel, PM says US-Israeli cooperation is ‘crucial’ to combat threats facing both countries

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on April 12, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on April 12, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Hosting US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at his office in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Israel and the US agree on never allowing Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.

“As you know, the US-Israel defense partnership has continually expanded over successive administrations and our cooperation is crucial in dealing with the many threats confronting both the United States and Israel,” Netanyahu said at a press conference alongside Austin.

“In the Middle East, there is no threat more dangerous, serious and pressing than that posed by the fanatical regime in Iran,” said Netanyahu, citing Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, arming of terror groups, and calls for Israel’s annihilation.

“Mr. Secretary, we both know the horrors of war. We both understand the importance of preventing war. And we both agree that Iran must never possess nuclear weapons. My policy as prime minister of Israel is clear — I will never allow Iran to obtain the nuclear capability to carry out its genocidal goal of eliminating Israel.

Speaking days after an apparent attack on the Iranian Natanz nuclear facility, which Tehran has blamed on Israel, Netanyahu concluded by saying that “Israel will continue to defend itself against Iran’s aggression and terrorism,” the prime minister added.

Austin, speaking after Netanyahu, refrained from explicitly mentioning Iran but said he had decided to travel to Israel to “express our desire for earnest consultations with Israel, as we address shared challenges in the region.”

With his two-day visit, the first official visit to the Jewish state by an American secretary of defense since 2017, Austin is the first member of US President Joe Biden’s administration to pay an official visit to Israel.

Affirming the Biden administration’s support for Israel’s security and qualitative military edge in the region, Austin said he and Netanyahu discussed “ways to deepen our longstanding defense relationship in the face of regional threats and other security challenges, and I affirm the department’s support for our ongoing diplomatic efforts to normalize relations between Israel and Arab and Muslim-majority nations,” he says.

“I am confident that together we can chart a path toward enduring peace in this region and advance open and stable order — now, and in the years ahead,” Austin said.

Austin’s visit comes amid ongoing talks in Vienna regarding a return to the 2015 nuclear deal by both Iran and the United States, a move that is staunchly opposed by Israel, particularly by Netanyahu.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu warned that Israel will not be bound by a revitalized nuclear deal between world powers and Iran. Israeli defense analysts have warned that there is a growing rift between Jerusalem and Washington on the issue of Iran and its nuclear program, which may have significant ramifications on Israel’s security.

This satellite photo from Planet Labs Inc. shows Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility on April 7, 2021 (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)

Austin arrived in Israel Sunday as reports emerged from Iran that its Natanz nuclear site had suffered a total power cut in what was widely assumed to be the result of an Israeli cyberattack. Jerusalem refused to comment on the matter, while Iran has blamed Israel, with its foreign minister vowing on Monday to “take revenge on the Zionists.”

The electrical glitch came hours after Tehran began using a new, more powerful centrifuge that could reportedly enrich uranium at a much faster rate than its existing equipment.

Just a day earlier, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a report released that Iran had again violated limits on its stockpile of enriched uranium, according to Reuters.

Austin’s visit also comes amid indications the Israel-Iran conflict was increasingly being waged at sea, marking a change in the conflict that previously took place primarily via airstrikes, cyberattacks, alleged espionage activities, and on land.

Israeli officials have refused to comment on the matter, in line with a longstanding policy of ambiguity regarding its military actions against Iran in the region, save for those that are direct, immediate retaliations for attacks on Israel.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

Blast at Natanz was caused by bomb planted near main electric line – Israeli TV

Posted April 14, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Report says enrichment facility entirely stopped functioning since blast, nuclear program set back by at least 6 months; separate report says advanced centrifuges damaged

FILE: Iran's nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, 300 kilometers (186 miles) south of the capital Tehran, on April 9, 2007. (Hasan Sarbakhshian/AP)

FILE: Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, 300 kilometers (186 miles) south of the capital Tehran, on April 9, 2007. (Hasan Sarbakhshian/AP)

A blast at Iran’s Natanz nuclear enrichment facility that has been attributed to Israel was caused by a bomb planted at the site in advance, an Israeli television report said Monday.

According to Channel 13 news, the bomb went off Sunday at 4 a.m., when some 1,000 workers were at Natanz. The facility was reportedly evacuated immediately after the blast over fears of further bombs, but no other explosives were found.

The report, which did not cite a source, said the explosive was placed near the main electricity line at Natanz and that when it detonated, the entire facility stopped functioning. The facility remains non-functional, the report said, with the program set back by months.

“All the signs point to this being the worst attack that Iran’s nuclear program has suffered… at the most important Iranian nuclear facility,” said Alon Ben-David, the network’s military analyst.

Natanz has previously been targeted, including by an explosion that rocked the facility last summer, in what was also said to have been an Israeli attack aimed at disrupting uranium enrichment and research at the site. In 2010, the United States and Israel allegedly halted Iran’s nuclear program with the Stuxnet virus, which caused Iranian centrifuges to tear themselves apart, reportedly destroying a fifth of the country’s machines.

Israel is anticipating Iran will respond to the latest attack but not necessarily right away, according to Ben-David. He said such retaliation could come in the form of a cyberattack on civilian infrastructure, an attack on Israeli-owned ships, missile fire from Syria or Yemen, or cruise missile or drone attacks on strategic Israeli targets.

“Yesterday signifies that the faceoff between Israel and Iran has escalated to a higher level,” he said.

Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, in an image released on November 5, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

The network also said Iran may now try to expand its operation at the underground Fordo plant, where it has over 1,000 centrifuges. There were some 6,000 centrifuges at Natanz.

Separately, the Kan public broadcaster reported that advanced centrifuges were damaged in the blast at Natanz. The report, which cited an intelligence source, did not specify which model of centrifuges were targeted. Iran publicly inaugurated the advanced IR-5 and IR-6 centrifuges at the facility on Saturday.

The television reports came after the Iranians downplayed the extent of the attack, with a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran saying Monday that the blast was caused by a “small explosion” but insisting the damage could be quickly repaired.

Iran initially reported a power blackout had hit Natanz on Sunday, a day after it announced it had started up advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges banned under the 2015 deal limiting its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Iran blamed Israel for the incident at Natanz, which according to The New York Times was caused by a massive blast at the centrifuges’ power supply. Israeli and US media quoted unnamed intelligence sources as saying it was believed to have caused significant damage to the centrifuges and set back Iran’s uranium enrichment ability by at least nine months.

FILE: The aftermath of an explosion and a fire at an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at Iran’s Natanz nuclear site, July 5, 2020. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)

The Islamic Republic has called the attack an act of “nuclear terrorism” and vowed “revenge on the Zionist regime.”

Sunday’s incident came as US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin landed in Israel for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. The US, Israel’s main security partner, is seeking to reenter the 2015 atomic accord aimed at limiting Tehran’s program so that it cannot pursue a nuclear weapon — a move staunchly opposed by Israel, particularly Netanyahu.

The US denied Monday that it was involved in the incident at Natanz.

With Natanz sabotage, will Iran’s powerful Guards finally face scrutiny?

Posted April 14, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Attack on nuclear site seen as latest in a string of failures for IRGC; criticism of paramilitary force leaks out ahead of election

Revolutionary Guard troops attend a military parade marking the 39th anniversary of the start of the Iran-Iraq war, in front of the shrine of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, just outside Tehran, Iran, September 22, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Revolutionary Guard troops attend a military parade marking the 39th anniversary of the start of the Iran-Iraq war, in front of the shrine of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, just outside Tehran, Iran, September 22, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The recent sabotage at Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facility is just the latest setback for the country’s Revolutionary Guard, though the paramilitary force is rarely publicly criticized due to its power.

But with some of its leaders now considering vying for the presidency, the Guard’s influence and failures could become fair game.

In just over the last year, the Guard shot down a Ukrainian commercial airliner, killing 176 people. Its forces failed to stop both an earlier attack at Iran’s Natanz facility and the assassination of a top scientist who started a military nuclear program decades earlier. Meanwhile, its floating base in the Red Sea off Yemen suffered an explosion.

Then on Sunday, the nuclear facility, of which the Guard is the chief protector, experienced a blackout that damaged some of its centrifuges. Israel is widely believed to have carried out the sabotage that caused the outage, though it has not claimed it.

This satellite photo from Planet Labs Inc. shows Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility on April 7, 2021 (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)

No one in Iran has directly called out the Guard for these failures — and that isn’t surprising. The force created after its 1979 Islamic Revolution has an extensive intelligence apparatus rivaling those of Iran’s civilian government — and it is brutal in its clampdown on dissent. Former detainees at Tehran’s Evin prison describe the Guard as running an entire ward of the facility housing politically sensitive prisoners. Local journalists can face arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment for their work.

Around the edges, however, criticism is beginning to leak out.

Eshaq Jahangiri, President Hassan Rouhani’s top vice president and a reformist, lamented that “nobody is ready to be responsible” for what happened at Natanz in remarks that appeared aimed at the Guard.

“Which body is responsible to identify and prevent the country’s enemies from doing something in the country? Has anyone ever been held accountable, or been held responsible or reprimanded, for what the biggest enemy of this country is doing here?” Jahangiri asked in a video shared widely on social media.

In this Feb. 28, 2020 photo, released by official website of the Office of the Iranian Vice-President, Senior Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri sits in front of a painting of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini during a top-level meeting on prevention and combating the coronavirus, in Tehran, Iran. (Office of the Iranian Vice President via AP)

Separately quoted by the hardline newspaper Kayhan, Jahangiri added: “People need to know what the resources, credibility, and prestige of the country are being spent on.”

That’s another apparent dig at the Guard, whose business interests through construction and other industries reach into the billions of dollars. The exact scope of all its holdings remains unclear, though experts’ estimates run from 15% to as much as 40% of Iran’s overall economy.

This new willingness to point the finger — however carefully — in the direction of the Guard may in part be due to the upcoming June presidential election.

Rouhani, a relatively moderate cleric within Iran’s theocracy whose administration struck a 2015 nuclear deal that brought Iran relief on sanctions, cannot run again due to term limits. That’s created a potential free-for-all filing period for candidates when it opens in May.

Within Iran, candidates exist on a political spectrum that broadly includes hardliners who want to expand Iran’s nuclear program and confront the world, moderates who hold onto the status quo, and reformists who want to change the theocracy from within. Those calling for radical change find themselves blocked from even running for office by Iran’s constitutional watchdog, the Guardian Council.

A soldier has yet to serve as Iran’s top civilian leader since the Islamic Revolution, in part over the initial suspicion that its conventional military forces remained loyal to the toppled shah. However, a line of former Guard leaders have begun raising their profiles ahead of the vote, and many may try to run.

They include Mohsen Rezaei, an outspoken former top commander; Hossein Dehghan, an adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei; Rostam Ghasemi, a former oil minister; and Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, the speaker of Iran’s parliament known for his support of a bloody crackdown on students in 1999.

The aftermath of an explosion and a fire at an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at Iran’s Natanz nuclear site, July 5, 2020. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)

A young generation of Guard leaders is in the mix as well, led by Saeed Mohammad, who once headed the Guard’s powerful Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters that is one of Iran’s biggest business conglomerates.

The debate over how much power the Guard should wield in Iran’s politics is as old as the Islamic Republic itself. Yet the force has been able to portray itself as the country’s defender through mass media on Iranian state television. Private local channels don’t exist.

That includes the Iranian spy TV show “Gando,” a fever dream of conspiracy theories in line with the Guard’s worldview. Its second season just aired, drawing more criticism for its depiction of Iran’s civilian government as being weak and overwhelmed by foreign powers.

But there’s a clear line between their idealized television version and the reality of these recent attacks striking the heart of one of Iran’s most powerful forces.

“We spent our resources and capabilities for the production of a TV series to portray ourselves as powerful in the fields of security and intelligence, as well as accusing our officials of spying,” wrote the hardline daily Jomhuri Eslami, asking why recent attacks hadn’t been thwarted.

The election may soon see more people soon asking that question publicly.

Iran’s Zarif: Israel made ‘a very bad gamble’ with blast at nuclear plant

Posted April 14, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Iranian FM says Tehran can now legitimately use any capacity it has at Natanz after ‘terrorist stupidity’; Russia’s Lavrov says Moscow expects nuke deal to be saved

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif addresses a conference in Tehran, Iran, February 23, 2021.  (Vahid Salemi/AP)

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif addresses a conference in Tehran, Iran, February 23, 2021. (Vahid Salemi/AP)

Iran’s foreign minister said Tuesday that Israel made a “very bad gamble” if it believed its alleged sabotage at the Natanz nuclear plant would stop efforts to lift US sanctions on Tehran.

“If [Israel] thought that they can stop Iran from following up on lifting sanctions from the Iranian people, then they made a very bad gamble,” Mohammad Javad Zarif told a joint press conference with his visiting Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov.

“What they did in Natanz, they thought it would reduce Iran’s leverage” in the talks on bringing the US back into the deal, Zarif said. “But it makes it possible for Iran to legally, legitimately, and in order to make up for this terrorist stupidity, use any capacity it has at Natanz.”

He said the enrichment plant would be made “more powerful” with advanced centrifuges.

Zarif additionally said that “acts of sabotage” and sanctions will give the United States no extra leverage in talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, which are set to resume on Wednesday.

“We have no problem with returning to implementing our JCPOA commitments,” he said, referring to the deal with major powers, which Washington quit in 2018.

“But the Americans should know that neither sanctions nor acts of sabotage will give them negotiation tools and these acts will only make the situation more difficult for them,” Zarif told a press conference alongside Lavrov.

File: Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, Iran (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)

The US, Israel’s main security partner, is seeking to reenter the 2015 atomic accord aimed at limiting Tehran’s program so that it cannot pursue a nuclear weapon — a move staunchly opposed by Israel, particularly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The US has said it is prepared to lift or ease sanctions that are “inconsistent” with the nuclear deal along with sanctions that are “inconsistent with the benefits” that Iran expected to get from agreeing to the accord.

However lawmakers in Tehran have called for the discussions to be suspended in the wake of the incident at Natanz, although the US denied Monday that it was involved.

According to The New York Times, US officials said they did not know if their Iranian counterparts would show up in Vienna on Wednesday when the talks on the agreement were set to resume.

But Lavrov on Tuesday said Moscow expected the Iranian nuclear deal to be saved.

“We expect that it will be possible to preserve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” Lavrov said after the talks with Zarif in Tehran.

In this photo released by the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, pose for photos after the ceremony of signing documents, in Tehran, Iran, April 13, 2021 (Iranian Foreign Ministry via AP)

“As far as we understand, our partners in Tehran have expressed their readiness to immediately move in that direction” if Washington upholds agreements on its end, Lavrov added.

Russia’s top diplomat also criticized recent EU sanctions on Iran, saying they raised “a huge number of questions” while talks aimed at reviving the agreement on curbing Tehran’s atomic ambition were ongoing. On Monday, the EU added eight Iranian security officials, including the chief of the powerful Revolutionary Guard, and three notorious prisons to a sanctions blacklist over a 2019 protest crackdown.

The Sunday attack on the Natanz nuclear facility is casting a major shadow over the resumption of indirect talks between the US and Iran over resurrection of the international accord limiting Iran’s nuclear program.

The Times reported Monday that the blast that Tehran has blamed on Israel was caused by a bomb that was smuggled into the plant and then detonated remotely. The report cited an unnamed intelligence official, without specifying whether they were American or Israeli.

According to the official, the blast took out the primary electrical system as well as its backup.

The claim was apparently confirmed by the former head of Iran’s atomic energy organization in an interview with Iranian state television.

Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, Iran's vice president and head of the country's Atomic Energy Organization (photo credit: Ronald Zak/AP)

Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, Iran’s vice president and head of the country’s Atomic Energy Organization (Ronald Zak/AP)

“From a technical standpoint, the enemy’s plan was rather beautiful,” said Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, now head of the Iranian parliament’s energy committee. “They thought about this and used their experts and planned the explosion so both the central power and the emergency power cable would be damaged.”

Although the extent of the damage remains unknown, the Times said intelligence officials believed it would take many months for the damage to be undone.

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, said that emergency power was already restored at the plant and enrichment was continuing, although it was unclear to what level. “A large portion of the enemy’s sabotage can be restored, and this train cannot be stopped,” he told Iranian media, according to the Times.

An unsourced Israeli Channel 13 TV report Monday said the plant was still non-functional, however.

FILE: The aftermath of an explosion and a fire at an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at Iran’s Natanz nuclear site, July 5, 2020. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)

Channel 13 said the bomb went off Sunday at 4 a.m., when some 1,000 workers were at Natanz. The facility was reportedly evacuated immediately after the blast over fears of further bombs, but no other explosives were found.

The Channel 13 news report, which did not cite a source, said the explosive was placed near the main electricity line at Natanz and that when it detonated, the entire facility stopped functioning. The facility remains nonfunctional, the report said, with the program set back by months.

Natanz has previously been targeted, including by an explosion that rocked the facility last summer, in what was also said to have been an Israeli attack aimed at disrupting uranium enrichment and research at the site. In 2010, the United States and Israel allegedly halted Iran’s nuclear program with the Stuxnet virus, which caused Iranian centrifuges to tear themselves apart, reportedly destroying a fifth of the country’s machines.

Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, in an image released on November 5, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

The network also said Iran may now try to expand its operation at the underground Fordo plant, where it has over 1,000 centrifuges. There were some 6,000 centrifuges at Natanz.

Separately, the Kan public broadcaster reported that advanced centrifuges were damaged in the blast at Natanz. The report, which cited an intelligence source, did not specify which model of centrifuges were targeted. Iran publicly inaugurated the advanced IR-5 and IR-6 centrifuges at the facility on Saturday.

Iran blamed Israel for the attack, a day after it announced it had started up advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges banned under the 2015 deal, calling it an act of “nuclear terrorism” and vowing “revenge on the Zionist regime.”