Iran claims it’s identified saboteurs behind blast at nuclear site

Atomic organization spokesperson says security services now have full knowledge of what happened at Natanz facility in July

A building damaged by a fire, at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, in a photo released on July 2, 2020. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)
A building damaged by a fire, at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, in a photo released on July 2, 2020. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

Iran has identified those behind an explosion at one of its nuclear sites earlier this year and knows their motives for attacking the facility, an Iranian official said on Sunday.

Atomic Energy Organization of Iran spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said during a television interview that the July incident at the Natanz facility was “an act of sabotage” and the investigation is still ongoing.

“As far as we know, they have identified the culprits and know their incentives and methods and actually, they have full knowledge over the issue,” Kamalvandi said, according to an English-language report on his remarks by the semi-official Fars News Agency.

Kamalvandi said he does not have full details of the ongoing investigation and that no more information can be provided for the time being.

Last month Kamalvandi confirmed for the first time that the Natanz blast was sabotage.

Spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Behrouz Kamalvandi speaks in a press briefing in Tehran, Iran, July 7, 2019. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

The July 2 explosion, which foreign media reports have attributed to Israel or the US, damaged an advanced centrifuge development and assembly plant. Kamalvandi has said that it did not interrupt operations but has vowed that Iran would respond if international actors were found to be behind the explosion.

In July Iranian news website “Didban Iran” (“Iran Watch”), tied to the country’s intelligence ministry, reported the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had concluded that the instigator of the blast was Ershad Karimi, a contractor at the site who owns a company, MEHR, that supplies precision measuring equipment.

According to a New York Times report, the blast was most likely the result of a bomb planted at the facility, potentially at a strategic gas line. The report did not rule out the possibility that a cyberattack was used to cause a malfunction that led to the explosion.

Iranian officials previously said that there were “traces of an explosion from elements on the inside [of the building],” and that the blast was not caused by a drone or missile attack, but refused to divulge more information, citing security concerns.

The explosion was one of a series of mysterious blasts at Iranian strategic sites around the same time, which were largely attributed to either Washington, Jerusalem, or both.

Reports last month indicated Iran has been moving to boost uranium enrichment at Natanz. A document from the International Atomic Energy Agency cited by the Bloomberg news agency said new advanced centrifuges were being moved from a pilot facility to a new area of the nuclear facility.

The move appeared to violate the 2015 nuclear agreement Iran signed with world powers, and may show that the alleged sabotage at the plant did not significantly set back Iran’s nuclear program. It also suggested the damage to Natanz was not as severe as first believed.

This July 5, 2020, satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. shows the substantial damage done by an explosion and a fire at an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at Iran’s Natanz nuclear site. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)

Under the nuclear accord officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran committed to limiting its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

But the JCPOA has been on life-support since the US withdrew from it and reimposed unilateral sanctions in 2018.

Iran has since taken small but escalatory steps away from compliance with the agreement, as it presses for the sanctions relief it was promised. Some of those steps are believed to have been at the Natanz nuclear site.

The US is currently engaged in a likely doomed bid to renew international sanctions against Iran at the UN, despite Trump’s withdrawal from the accord.

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