A satellite view of Natanz, a key facility for the production of nuclear weapons, located in the central Iranian province of Isfahan. (Photo: Archive)
WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – Early on Thursday, an explosion occurred at Natanz, a key facility for the production of nuclear weapons, located in the central Iranian province of Isfahan.
Official Iranian media, citing a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, downplayed the incident, saying “an accident had occurred at an industrial shed under construction.”
According to The New York Times, the blast caused “extensive damage to what appeared to be a factory,” where Iran had previously boasted that it was “producing a new generation of centrifuges”—machines that refine uranium ore into weapons-grade material for an atomic bomb.
The Times cited “a Middle Eastern intelligence official” who said “the blast was caused by an explosive device planted inside the facility.”
In June 1981, Israel bombed an Iraqi nuclear reactor south of Baghdad that was under construction with assistance from France.
In September 2007, Israel bombed a nuclear reactor in Deir ez-Zor, Syria, which was being built with help from North Korea. During the course of Syria’s civil war, the area fell under the control of the so-called Islamic State. In March 2017, however, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces captured the site from the terrorist group.
Part of the work at Natanz is done below ground, under very thick concrete, to protect it from airstrikes, such as those noted above.
Thursday’s blast “destroyed much of the aboveground parts” of the facility, The New York Times reported, as it suggested that centrifuges were balanced in the wrecked building, before being put into operation.
The apparent sabotage at Natanz follows an explosion last Friday at Parchin, a military base near Tehran. Iranian officials claimed the incident was an explosion in an industrial gas tank in a civilian part of the base.
Israeli media, however, noted that the blast occurred near the Khojir missile facility and at a site that makes solid-propellant rockets.
A previously unknown group, “Homeland Panthers” claimed responsibility for Thursday’s blast, even before Tehran officially acknowledged it. The group claimed its members were dissidents in Iran’s security forces.
“There was no way to confirm” if the group is real, and “if so, whether it was domestic, as it claimed, or supported by a foreign power,” The New York Times noted.
Israel and the US have shared a long-standing concern about Iran’s nuclear program. President George W. Bush first ordered cyberattacks targeting that program “toward the end of his term,” the Times reported.
Barack Obama, who had campaigned for president on his opposition to the war in Iraq, took the opposite tack, reaching an agreement with Iran in 2015 to limit its nuclear program. However, critics charged that the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), only postponed the day when Iran would acquire a nuclear bomb, and Donald Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018 and re-imposed sanctions on Iran.
Iran has responded by breaching international restrictions on its nuclear program. That includes denying access to two sites that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) sought to visit, as well as refusing to answer certain questions about its past nuclear activities.
Iran’s stonewalling of the IAEA inspectors prompted the United Nations atomic agency board to issue a resolution last month, condemning Tehran for its lack of cooperation, a step that it had not taken since 2012.
Editing by John J. Catherine