Israel appeared to confirm claims that it was behind a cyberattack on Iran’s main nuclear facility on Sunday, which Tehran’s nuclear power chief described as an act of terrorism that warrants a response against its perpetrators.
The apparent attack took place hours after officials at the Natanz reactor restarted the spinning of advanced centrifuges that could accelerate the production of enriched uranium, in what had been heralded as a crucial moment in the country’s nuclear program.
As Iranian authorities scrambled to deal with a large-scale blackout in Natanz, which the country’s Atomic Energy Agency acknowledged had damaged the power grid at the site, Israeli defense chief Aviv Kochavi said the operations of the country in the Middle East are not hidden from the eyes of the enemy ”.
Israel did not impose censorship restrictions on coverage, as it had often done after similar previous incidents, and the apparent attack was widely covered by the Israeli media. Public radio took the unusual step of claiming that the Mossad intelligence agency had played a central role.
The inexplicable shutdown is believed to be the latest in a series of exchanges between the two archenemies, who have waged an extensive and growing shadow war across the Middle East for more than a decade, centered on Iran’s nuclear program and its participation in matters beyond. its borders.
The clashes have most recently been fought outdoors, with attacks on shipping, the execution of Iran’s chief nuclear scientist, hundreds of airstrikes against Iranian proxies in Syria, and even a mysterious oil spill in northern Israel, which officials have claimed it was environmental sabotage. .
Natanz has remained a focal point of Israeli fears, with an explosion that damaged a centrifuge assembly plant last July, and a combined CIA and Mossad cyberattack using a computer virus called Stuxnet in 2010 causing widespread disruption. and it delayed Iran’s nuclear program for several years. years.
Iran’s nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, urged the international community and the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) to take action against the perpetrators of the attack. He confirmed that a “terrorist attack” had damaged the power grid at the Natanz site. The IAEA said it was aware of the reports, but declined to comment further.
The events came as US President Joe Biden was preparing to reactivate a hotly contested deal to offer sanctions relief in exchange for Tehran limiting its nuclear program and not pursuing the development of a nuclear weapon. The 2015 pact was the centerpiece of the Barack Obama administration’s foreign policy, but it was quickly destroyed by his successor, Donald Trump, who instead took an aggressive stance to strangle Iran’s economy while strengthening his regional enemies.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in Tel Aviv on Sunday, in part to sell Washington’s new position to skeptical Israeli officials, who fear that even a scaled-down Iranian program would offer a cover for building a nuclear weapon capable of reach the eastern Mediterranean. .
After meeting with Austin, Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz said: “We will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new deal with Iran secures the vital interests of the world, America, avoids a dangerous race. arms in our region and protect the state of Israel. “
The Natanz attack came five days after an apparent Israeli mine strike on an Iranian freighter in the Red Sea, which Western intelligence officials have long claimed as a command-and-control vessel used to support the Houthis. backed by Tehran in the war in Yemen.
The freighter, known as Saviz, was badly damaged by at least one mine, which detonated below the waterline. The ship sent out several emergency calls, which were received by the nearby Saudi Arabian coast guard. The strike was the latest in a series of retaliatory attacks against each country’s shipping in regional waters over several years, many of which have not been recognized.
It was followed by a series of Israeli airstrikes in Syria that damaged a military base near Damascus allegedly used by representatives loyal to Iran who provide support to the Lebanese militia and political power, Hezbollah, which remains an essential arm of Iranian foreign policy. .
Last year, Israel broke its silence on eight years of airstrikes in Syria, acknowledging that it had been responsible for around 1,000 strikes, which it says were aimed primarily at preventing Hezbollah from installing advanced guidance systems on rudimentary rockets on Lebanese soil.
The Israeli strikes in Syria have caused widespread damage to the country’s military infrastructure, already devastated by a decade of uprisings and wars, and have prompted diplomatic efforts, led by the United Arab Emirates, to pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. , to break an alliance with Iran that has helped it to remain a leader. Despite the insistence of several trusted security officials and the backing of Russia, which has also played a role in the security of his regime, Assad has rejected the proposals.
Hezbollah, which has provided military force on behalf of Iran, continues to vehemently oppose such a suggestion, and senior officials fear that such a repositioning could eventually be aimed at forcing peace talks with its arch enemy.
Western officials believe Israel has become increasingly brazen in its attempts to disrupt the Iranian program, pointing to the assassination of the country’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, last November, who was shot to death along with his bodyguards in a rural road. Iran claims artificial intelligence was used to identify Fakhrizadeh, who was shot dead by a remotely operated automatic weapon. The small truck carrying the weapon exploded.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism