The accident at the Iranian uranium enrichment facility at Natanz coincided with the start of negotiations on the restoration of the nuclear deal. It was broken in 2018 by Donald Trump. Severe economic sanctions were then imposed on Iran that remain in force to this day, and the Iranians returned to uranium enrichment.
The accident at the Iranian uranium enrichment facility at Natanz coincided with the start of negotiations on the restoration of the nuclear deal. Israeli secret services pleaded guilty to causing it .
The situation raised many questions. Why is Israel sabotaging Iran’s nuclear program when negotiations resume? Why is Iran continuing to enrich uranium while taking part in the negotiations? On this occasion, it is also worth asking the most basic questions. Why has Israel been sabotaging Iran’s nuclear program for years? And finally – why does Iran need a nuclear program?
The failure turned out to be a sabotage once again
On Sunday, April 11th, there was a power cut at the Iranian uranium enrichment facility at Natanz. Blackout caused an explosion that destroyed some infrastructure, including some nuclear centrifuges. It turned out, however, which was confirmed by two intelligence workers for the New York Times magazine that the cause of the accident was the detonation of the explosive. It was the explosion that caused the power failure, preventing the current from reaching the uranium enrichment centrifuges .
Iranian authorities said that apart from the damage, nothing happened – neither workers nor the environment suffered. Nevertheless, the Iranian spokesman, Said Chatibzadech, announced that Iran would retaliate against “nuclear terrorism” .
The information that the Israeli special services were behind the accident appeared shortly after the incident. One of the Israeli state radio stations – citing a Mossad officer – reported that it was an Israeli cyber-operation. The Israeli authorities, however, did not plead guilty to the attack .
It is worth emphasizing that actions to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program are not new to Israeli politics. For years, Israel has been working to prevent Iran from achieving such an amount of enriched uranium that would allow it to produce a nuclear weapon. Over the last several years, this strategy has covered both kidnappings and killings of key scientists (e.g. Muhsin Fakhrizadeh at the end of 2020) and operations in cyberspace.
The most famous cyber-operation remains the infection of the Natanz facility (exactly the same as last Sunday) with the Stuxnet worm. Then the efforts were joined by the Israeli and American secret services. They created malware that led to physical destruction for the first time in the history of cyber attacks. The target of the attack was the aforementioned atomic centrifuges – Stuxnet destroyed a thousand out of 9 thousand centrifuges. The cyberattack successfully slowed down the program and exposed vulnerabilities .
What are some of Israel’s motivations?
Israel’s motivations mainly concern its’ position in the region, its’ security strategy, difficult relations with Iran and its’ internal political situation.
Israel is the only nuclear weapons holder in the Middle East. The nuclear weapon monopoly guarantees its safety even when it has no regional ally. This approach was spawned by the Arab-Jewish conflict and the encirclement of Israel by hostile neighbors . The possession of nuclear weapons by any country hostile to Israel is considered the most serious threat to the country’s existence.
Iran is one of many countries that does not recognize the existence of Israel. Additionally, since it was announced that it was running a nuclear program in 2002, Iranian politicians have repeated that Israel is their greatest enemy alongside the US and should be “wiped off the map.” Such declarations appear regularly, and Israel takes them very seriously.
This is why Israel is able to use all available means (even military means, as has been emphasized many times) to prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons. That is why Israel’s policy towards this program is also so aggressive. The sabotage actions have always been aimed at slowing down the work and showing that the Iranians are not able to secure this program properly.
It is also up to Israel to “internationalize” Iran’s nuclear program as much as possible. The presentation of the Islamic republic as an aggressive state and unprepared to possess nuclear weapons makes this problem not only a challenge for Israel and the region, but also a concern for the international community.
The creation of such an atmosphere was conducive to the acceptance of sanctions. Up to a certain point, Israel also counted on a military intervention with the US, but the idea was abandoned. Nevertheless, Israel wanted to create a climate conducive to supporting a possible military intervention .
Why is Israel sabotaging the Iranian atomic program if the agreement negotiations are being renewed?
It should be emphasized that Israel’s actions are a continuation of the policy designed years ago. There are now several reasons why Israel may have decided to attack Iran’s nuclear program days after negotiations resumed in Vienna.
The sabotage may have been aimed at drawing the international community’s attention to the fact that, despite the talks, Iran continues to enrich uranium. In addition – the program is still sensitive to outside interference. This, in turn, could lead to a deterioration of Iran’s negotiating position in talks with the powers that will take place in the days to come. Iran is committed to lifting sanctions and returning to the state prior to May 2018. However, it will always be in Israel’s interest to weaken Iran, so the complete lifting of the sanctions (which has not yet been ruled out) is opposed by Tel Aviv.
Experts also point out that, rather than in the international sphere, it may be about Israel’s domestic politics. Benjamin Netanyahu continues to grapple with the public over allegations of corruption. At the same time, another parliamentary election has recently been held and Netanyahu is facing the challenge of creating a ruling coalition. The international crisis may turn out to be a solution to the coalition crisis. The situation with Iran could convince hesitant coalition partners that in the present situation it would be a rash move to give up the leadership of an experienced politician .
It is worth mentioning that the attack on the Natanz facility coincided with a visit by US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to Israel. Naturally, Israel was very keen to raise the issue of the Viennese negotiations. It is not known, however, whether the issue of the Sunday incident was raised .
Why is Iran developing the nuclear program?
Iran has been striving to become a regional power for decades. Today it can be said that he has not yet achieved this title, and severe sanctions and a pandemic are delaying this vision. It is worth emphasizing, however, that the seeds of Iran’s nuclear program appeared before the Islamic revolution and the rule of the ayatollahs. The first nuclear components were brought to the country by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. After the Islamic revolution in 1979 and the Iran-Iraq war in 1980-1988, the Iranians decided to continue work on the nuclear power plant .
Tehran was fully aware that acquiring a nuclear weapon is a so-called “superpower shortcut”. The production of nuclear weapons is a way to raise the status of a country in international relations. It is also an important element of the so-called deterring potential aggressors – in particular those who have nuclear weapons.
It is worth adopting the Iranian perspective for a moment – Iran is a country that has been pushed to the margins of the international community after the Islamic revolution. First of all, by the United States, which was an Iranian ally under the Shah. Following the regime change, Iran was labeled a Middle Eastern black sheep and fell into isolation. In later years, it even found itself on the “axis of evil” with Iraq and North Korea. Earlier, it also experienced the war with Iraq, during which, incidentally, Iraq used weapons of mass destruction, in this case chemical weapons. The Iranians wondered if this war would have happened had they had nuclear potential at the time .
Another issue has to do with Iran’s perception of (in)justice in the international relations. According to Iran, if other countries (the United States, Russia, India, China, Pakistan, France, Great Britain, Israel, North Korea) may possess nuclear weapons, why are they not allowed?
From an international security perspective, it is obvious that any proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is harmful and undesirable, of which Iran is aware. Iranian nuclear weapons could lead to the emergence of Saudi, Turkish or Egyptian nuclear weapons. The Iranians do not understand, however, why they are accused of potentially using these weapons, since in the history of nuclear weapons only the United States used it at the end of World War II.
This is where Israel comes in, which does not trust Iran and is able to make every effort not to check whether Iran can be trusted.
Why is Iran enriching uranium if the negotiations are being renewed?
Negotiations to return to the JCPoA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) are undoubtedly an opportunity for Iran. If the parties agree, the Iranian economy will eventually recover. So why is Iran stubbornly continuing to enrich uranium while the negotiations are ongoing, rather than showing good will in practice?
There are several reasons. First, it’s a demonstration of strength. Iran wants to show that as long as the Americans do not agree to the lifting of the sanctions, it will continue the program consistently and will not stop until it reaches the desired result.
At the same time, Iran gives the impression that nuclear weapons could be developed soon. President Hassan Rouhani reported that this year the uranium enrichment capacity increased to 20% of the purity . As a result, the international community does not want to delay negotiations, which Iran also needs .
Everyone needs the agreement back
The return to the pre-May 2018 agreement seems to be the only initiative today that can, to some extent, satisfy all parties in a peaceful manner. While Israel believes that lifting sanctions altogether is too mild an option, it should be recalled that it is not a party to the JCPoA and must be content with what the powers (in particular, their ally, the United States) negotiate.
Iran is able to significantly limit the enrichment of uranium, as it has already declared many times. The talks have been continued since April 14, so it remains to be seen whether and how the last incident will affect their course .
JCPoA is not an ideal solution, but it is the only formula that is able to meet the different expectations of the parties to the dispute. For the international community, including the countries of the region and Israel, this is an opportunity to significantly reduce work on the program and admit observers of the International Atomic Energy Agency to nuclear facilities. And for Iran it is a chance for economic and thus social reconstruction. At the same time, it is an important step in limiting the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region, reducing the risk of new tensions and conflicts.
Anna Słania – national and international security expert, journalist. Interested in the issues of contemporary armed conflicts, terrorism and humanitarianism in international relations. Works in the field of peace journalism. Member of the Salam Lab team.
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Cover photo: president of Iran Hassan Rouhani and the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI) Ali Akbar Salehi near nuclear power plant in Bushehr. Photo: Hossein Heidarpuour via Wikipedia.org.