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Ex-IDF intel chief after Natanz incident: Maximum pressure on Iran hasn’t worked

Whatever the damage at enrichment facility, Amos Yadlin says Iran has the knowledge to push its nuclear program forward; 2nd analyst says Tehran may soon lash out at Israel

President Hassan Rouhani, second 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 AP)
President Hassan Rouhani, second 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 AP)

Amos Yadlin, the former IDF chief of Military Intelligence, said he was concerned about Iran’s nuclear program on Sunday, after a major power cut that halted uranium enrichment at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility.

Unidentified intelligence sources told Hebrew media that Israel’s Mossad security service was behind the power outage. Iran described the act as “nuclear terrorism.”

The incident came after Tehran and Washington opened indirect talks about rescuing the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal in Vienna last week, a potential rapprochement firmly opposed by Israel.

Recent weeks have also seen escalating tensions and accusations of maritime sabotage between Israel and Iran.

Yadlin said an electricity cut caused by a cyberattack would not be a significant problem if Iran has backup systems, such as generators, and would be more of a message to Tehran.

If the suspected attack also hit the facility’s backup power systems, “it would be more serious,” and would likely take Iran several months to recover from, he said.

“But if somebody really hit all 6,000 centrifuges — old and new — that’s an extraordinary achievement,” said Yadlin, who heads the head of the Institute for National Security Studies.

Director General of the National Security Studies (INSS) Amos Yadlin speaks at the Annual International Conference of the Institute for National Security Studies, in Tel Aviv, on January 29, 2020 (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)

Yadlin said more leaks in the coming days would reveal more about the damage to the facility.

Iran has the necessary knowledge to continue forward with its nuclear program, regardless of the damage, he added.

He said former US president Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign had not slowed down Iran’s nuclear efforts, but spurred them forward, and that Iran was setting the terms at the talks in Vienna with its hardline demand for sweeping sanctions relief.

“The maximum pressure campaign did not stop them, it did the opposite,” he said.

Israel’s intelligence and military were on top of the situation, but the country’s diplomatic efforts were flagging, as Netanyahu focused on politics and his trial and the government remain mired in a political stalemate following last month’s election, Yadlin said.

Channel 13’s defense analyst Alon Ben-David said that damage to Natanz could undermine Iran’s leverage in talks with the US.

“In security and intelligence channels, US officials expressed satisfaction with the damage to the facility,” he said.

Channel 12 defense analyst Ehud Ya’ari said that, with the Mossad’s apparent leaks to Hebrew media taking responsibility for the incident at Natanz, “We’re getting close to the moment” where Tehran will have no choice but to respond with a military strike of its own.

An Iranian technician works at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran. February 3, 2007. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Ya’ari noted that Iran has been restrained until now, despite the November 2020 assassination of its former nuclear chief Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, which it blamed on Israel, and successive Israeli strikes in Syria. Israeli intelligence expressed fears several months ago that Iran was reaching a boiling point and might soon lash out, he said.

Ya’ari added that, despite the various setbacks attributed to Israel, Iran has continued to make progress with its nuclear program.

He said Iran’s statements about Sunday’s incident indicated that officials there believed the outage was a deliberate attack and they had a right to respond.

If they call it “nuclear terror, it means damage was caused to the centrifuges and uranium stockpiles there,” he surmised.

Former CIA director James Woolsey said last month that Washington is underestimating the Iranian nuclear threat, that Tehran already has the components necessary to build a bomb, and that US intelligence and nuclear inspectors could miss signs Iran was breaking out toward a nuclear weapon.

North Korea, hungry for Iranian oil, could test Iranian weapons itself, or trade knowledge with Tehran, under the radar of US intelligence. Iran’s nuclear program has been abetted by North Korea, Russia, China and probably Pakistan, Woolsey said.

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

In the early hours of Sunday morning, the underground Natanz facility suffered an electrical disruption in what was widely speculated to be an Israeli cyberattack. Iran said the attack did not cause any casualties and did not cause radioactive pollution. Israel has officially refrained from commenting on the matter, and Iran has not specifically accused the Jewish state of being responsible for the incident.

On Sunday evening, unnamed intelligence sources were cited by a number of Hebrew news outlets as saying that the Mossad was involved in the attack, which was reportedly more severe than Iran had indicated.

According to Channel 13 news, the cyberattack caused “severe damage at the heart of Iran’s enrichment program.”

In this photo taken and released on April 10, 2021, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, a new IR-9 centrifuge is displayed in a ceremony to commemorate Iran’s new nuclear achievements in Tehran.(Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

The timing of the attack was also said to not be incidental, coming the day after Iran celebrated its National Nuclear Technology Day; the day after Iranian scientists began operating more powerful centrifuges; and amid ongoing talks in Vienna aimed at revitalizing the flagging 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers, which Israel fiercely opposes.

The disruption at Natanz appears to have been designed to counter Iran’s efforts to raise pressure on the United States by amassing greater quantities of uranium and enriching it to higher levels, as the two sides negotiate a return to the 2015 nuclear deal.

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