Tag Archives: natanz

A War Like No Other: the Covert Invasion of Iran

Within hours of Iran proudly announcing the launch of its latest centrifuges, on April 10, 2021, a power blackout damaged some of the precious machines at its site in Natanz…One thing reports seem to agree on is that an “incident” affected the power distribution network at Natanz.

Natanz is critical to Iran’s nuclear program. The heavily secured site is protected by anti-aircraft guns and has two large centrifuge halls buried more than 50 feet underground to protect them from airstrikes. Despite the conflicting reports, it appears the facility’s main power distribution equipment — Natanz has its own grid — was taken out with explosives. Backup emergency electricity also was taken down, and power cut out across the multibuilding compound, Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesperson for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, told Iran’s state-run TV.

A blackout may not sound that serious, but it can be at an enrichment plant. Centrifuges are slender machines linked up in what are called cascades which enrich uranium gas by spinning it at incredibly high speeds using rotors. The stress on the advanced materials involved is intense and the process is technically immensely challenging. A small problem can send a centrifuge spinning out of control, with parts smashing into each other and damaging a whole cascade.

The question is: what caused the blackout – a cyber-attack or a physical act of sabotage, like a bomb?

Israel has a long history of sabotaging nuclear facilities in Iraq, Syria, and Iran, both through cyber means — including the sophisticated Stuxnet attack against Iran, which Israel conducted with U.S. and Dutch intelligence agencies — and with conventional bombs and explosives. Israel is also reportedly behind a number of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists and officials over the last decade. The Stuxnet attack was particularly significant because it launched the era of cyberwarfare, as it was the first cyberattack known to use a digital weapon that could leap into the physical realm to cause actual destruction of equipment. The highly skilled covert operation was conducted in lieu of a kinetic attack to avoid attribution and an escalation in hostilities with Iran; it remained undetected for three years..

Excerpts from Gordon Corera, Iran nuclear attack: Mystery surrounds nuclear sabotage at Natanz, BBC, Apr. 12, 2021, Kim Zetter, Israel may have Destroyed Iran Centrifuges Simply by Cutting Power, Intercept, Apr. 13, 2021

Nuclear Capability of Iran – Natanz, Fordow, Parchin

One [of the problems] is the ambiguity about what rights the Iranians will have to continue nuclear research and development. They are working on centrifuges up to 20 times faster than today’s, which they want to start deploying when the agreement’s [the currently negotiated agreement between Iran and United States/Europe]  first ten years are up. The worry is that better centrifuges reduce the size of the clandestine enrichment facilities that Iran would need to build if it were intent on escaping the agreement’s strictures.

That leads to the issue on which everything else will eventually hinge. Iran has a long history of lying about its nuclear programme. It only declared its two enrichment facilities, Natanz and Fordow, after Western intelligence agencies found out about them. A highly intrusive inspection and verification regime is thus essential, and it would have to continue long after other elements of an agreement expire. Inspectors from the IAEA would have to be able to inspect any facility, declared or otherwise, civil or military, on demand…

For a deal to be done in June 2015, Iran will have to consent to an [intrusive] inspection regime. It will also have to answer about a dozen questions already posed by the IAEA about the “possible military dimensions” of its nuclear programme. Yet on March 23, 2015Yukiya Amano, the agency’s director, said that Iran had replied to only one of those questions. Parchin, a military base which the IAEA believes may have been used for testing the high-explosive fuses that are needed to implode, and thus set off, the uranium or plutonium at the core of a bomb, remains out of bounds. Nor has the IAEA been given access to Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the physicist and Revolutionary Guard officer alleged to be at the heart of the weapons development research. The IAEA’s February 19, 2015 report on Iran stated that it “remains concerned about the possible existence…of undisclosed nuclear-related activities…including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.”

Excerpts from, The Iran Nuclear Talks: Not Yet the Real Deal, Economist, Apr. 4, 2015, at 43