Experts believe an attack on a facility producing centrifuge parts for Iran’s nuclear program caused extensive damage, destroying or disabling all equipment at part of the site, according to an Israeli report Sunday.
Tehran has maintained that the apparent drone assault on the Karaj factory was thwarted and no damage caused, but satellite photos published by private Israeli intelligence group The Intel Lab Saturday seemingly cast doubt on those claims, showing a large hole in the roof of one building previously identified as a bellows manufacturing plant.
The photos also purportedly showed evidence of a large fire.
According to the Kan public broadcaster, experts who saw the photos concluded that “all equipment in the area had been destroyed completely or rendered inoperable.” It said the experts had made the assessments based on the satellite photos, which were taken July 1.
The station only named one expert it was relying on, David Albright, who heads the Institute for Science and International Security, a non-governmental organization which has attempted to track and expose illicit aspects of Iran’s nuclear program.
According to the report, Albright and other experts say that the Iranians have already begun attempting to repair the damage from the June 23 strike at the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company, or TESA, near the city of Karaj, northwest of Tehran.
A tweet from The Intel Lab on Saturday claimed that the roof had largely been dismantled by Iran as part of rehabilitation activities following the attack. The dismantled roof allowed analysts to peek inside the building, where dark coloration indicated the presence of a large fire inside the building, the smallest of three main structures at the site.
June 21st the roof was as earlier images, June 26th appearance of a small dark spot which gave the hint, June 1st shows that the roof was further dismantled as part of the cleaning. pic.twitter.com/aknog1sFhI
— The Intel Lab (@TheIntelLab) July 3, 2021
According to a New York Times report last month, the TESA factory was tasked with replacing damaged centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear site, a previous target of apparent sabotage, and also produces more advanced centrifuges that can more quickly enrich uranium.
In 2011, members of the National Council of Resistance in Iran opposition group published photos of the Karaj site claiming that it was being used for the clandestine production of centrifuge parts.
“The various parts that are manufactured in this site include casing, magnets, molecular pumps, composite tubes, Bellows, and centrifuge bases. These are essentially the parts used for the production of IR-1 type centrifuges. But there are also parts related to more advanced centrifuges that are also produced at this site.”
According to Nournews, June 24th, 2021 "Security forces have managed to foil an act of sabotage against one of the buildings of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) in Karaj, Alborz province". Satellite Image from July 1st tells a different story. #Iran #Nuclear #JCPOA pic.twitter.com/QTAqTml4HT
— The Intel Lab (@TheIntelLab) July 3, 2021
Iran has not identified who it believes was responsible for the drone strike. The country has accused Israel of similar attacks on its nuclear program in the past.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett appeared to hint at Israel’s role during a speech at a graduation ceremony for Israeli Air Force pilots, a day after the strike. “Our enemies know — not from statements, but from actions — that we are much more determined and much more clever, and that we do not hesitate to act when it is needed,” Bennett said in his speech at the IAF’s Hatzerim Air Base, outside Beersheba.
The centrifuge production site was reportedly on a list of targets that Israel presented to the Trump administration last year, at the same time as it suggested striking Iran’s uranium enrichment site at Natanz and assassinating Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a scientist who began the country’s military nuclear program decades earlier, an intelligence source told the New York Times.
Fakhrizadeh was killed in November 2020 in an attack Iran blamed on Israel, while a mysterious explosion damaged a large number of centrifuges at the Natanz plant in April 2021. Israel’s former Mossad spy agency chief recently indicated in an interview given after he left office that Israel was behind that incident.
While Iran maintains that the Karaj facility is used for civilian purposes, it has been subjected to United Nations, European Union and American sanctions since at least 2007 for being involved in Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The US lifted those sanctions under the 2015 nuclear deal, but then reimposed them in 2018 when Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord.