A fire that damaged a building used for producing centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz nuclear site last week was “a deliberate attack,” a website close to an Iranian security agency said Tuesday, in the first apparent public acknowledgment from Tehran that the incident was not an accident.
Nour News, seen as a mouthpiece of Iran’s Supreme Council of National Security, claimed that the blast at the Natanz facility, which came amid a series of mysterious disasters that struck sensitive Iranian sites in recent days, bore similarity to other strikes against the country’s security infrastructure.
While asserting that “an airstrike on the Natanz plant is almost impossible” due to its strong air defenses, an article on the site said that “the combination of intelligence, logistics, action and the volume of destruction” prove that the incident was deliberate.
Iran admitted Sunday that Natanz incurred “considerable” damage from the fire, as satellite pictures appeared to show widespread devastation at the sensitive facility. It had previously sought to downplay the damage from the blaze, which analysts said had likely destroyed an above-ground lab being used to prepare advanced centrifuges before they were installed underground.
“There are a lot of similarities between the incident in Natanz and the assassination of General Soleimani,” the Nour News article claimed, referring, without elaborating, to the January assassination by the US of a senior commander in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
On Sunday, a Middle Eastern intelligence official told The New York Times that the damage to Natantz was caused by a powerful bomb, and that Israel was behind the blast. A member of the Revolutionary Guard also told the newspaper that an explosive was used, but didn’t specify who was responsible.
The building was constructed in 2013 for the development of advanced centrifuges, though work was halted there in 2015 under the nuclear deal with world powers, Iran’s atomic agency spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said earlier this week. When the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal, the work there was renewed, Kamalvandi said.
He claimed the fire had damaged “precision and measuring instruments,” and that the center had not been operating at full capacity due to restrictions imposed by the nuclear deal. Iran began experimenting with advanced centrifuge models in the wake of the US unilaterally withdrawing from the deal two years ago.
Nour News said that the site served as home to Iran’s “modern centrifuges” of IR-4 and IR-6 generations.
Iran long has denied seeking nuclear weapons, though the IAEA previously said Iran had done work in “support of a possible military dimension to its nuclear program” that largely halted in late 2003.
Western concerns over the Iranian atomic program led to sanctions and eventually to the nuclear deal. The unilateral withdrawal of the US, under President Donald Trump, from the accord in May 2018 led to a series of escalating attacks between Iran and the US, and to Tehran abandoning the deal’s production limits.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.