Intel: Iran claims it found agents behind Natanz nuclear explosion

al-monitor A general view of the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility — 180 miles south of Tehran, Iran — is seen on April 9, 2007. Photo by Majid Saeedi/Getty Images.

Sep 9, 2020

Saboteurs responsible for the July 2 explosion at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility have been identified, said a senior Iranian energy official as reported by the country's semi-official state media outlet, Fars News Agency.

On Sunday, Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) spokesperson Behrouz Kamalvandi told state media that the government had discovered those responsible for the blast. Kamalvandi declined to provide further details as he said the investigation is 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.

The Natanz incident was first announced by AEOI in early July and later verified as an explosion. No casualties were reported.

Although the blast impacted capabilities of the energy facility and caused serious damage, the regime later backtracked and said the destruction was not significant and production was able to compensate for the loss, Kamalvandi told state TV last month. Israel was widely reported to have been behind the blast, stemming from an April report by the Washington Post that hackers linked to Iran has targeted important Israeli water systems. There is also speculation the Natanz blast was a cyberattack.

Why it matters: Sunday’s announcement arrives just one week after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief met with AEOI officials in Tehran. 

Natanz is one of several Iranian facilities monitored by the IAEA. In a joint press conference after the Aug. 25 meeting, both sides expressed hope that there would be strengthened Iran-IAEA cooperation in the future.

An agreement formed after the meeting allows IAEA to continue their inspection work, said IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi.

“This was the result of dogged, systematic dialogue, conversation, clarification of the scope of our work and the way in which we do it,” he said

But after Sunday’s statement about the Natanz incident, that progress may be stalled. 

What’s next: On Tuesday, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the AEOI, told state TV that production had begun on a “more modern, larger and more comprehensive hall” near Natanz, according to state TV. Much of the uranium-enrichment site is already underground. 

The UN's nuclear watchdog believes Iran had a coordinated nuclear arms program that was halted in 2003; but Tehran denies ever seeking the weapons.

The IAEA's vist to Tehran arrived on the heels of the United States demanding the UN Security Council to reimpose sanctions against Iran. US President Donald Trump withdrew from Iran's 2015 nuclear deal. But an August vote by the UN Security Council halted a call to snapback sanctions against the regime. 

Know more: Al-Monitor’s Week in Review analyzes the fate of Iran’s nuclear deal and its dependency on the outcome of the upcoming US presidential election.

Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
  • Al-Monitor Archives
  • The Week in Review
  • Exclusive Events
  • Invitation-only Briefings