Iran’s Zarif blames Israel for Natanz incident, vows revenge

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Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has vowed revenge against Israel for an attack on Iran’s main nuclear facilities at Natanz but said it will not stop high-level talks to restore the country’s nuclear deal with world powers.

In a private meeting with lawmakers on Monday, Zarif pointed out that top Israeli officials explicitly said they would try to prevent multilateral efforts to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which would lead to lifting United States sanctions on Iran.

“Now they think they will achieve their goal. But the Zionists will get their answer in more nuclear advancements,” the diplomat was quoted as saying by state-run IRNA. He vowed “revenge” against Israel and said Iran would not fall into its trap by refusing to engage in talks that could see unilateral US sanctions lifted.

He also promised Natanz will be built stronger than before, using more advanced centrifuges. “If they think our hand in the negotiations has been weakened, actually this cowardly act will strengthen our position in the talks,” he said. “Other parties to the talks must know that if they faced enrichment facilities that used first-generation machines, now Natanz can be filled with advanced centrifuges that have several times the enrichment capacity.”

The enrichment and centrifuge assembly lines in Isfahan’s Natanz, the country’s main facilities, were targeted by a large-scale blackout on Sunday that Iran called an act of “nuclear terrorism”. Israel has not officially accepted responsibility for the attack but has imposed no censorship restrictions on its wide coverage by local media, some of which has explicitly said Israel’s spy agency Mossad was responsible.

The nuclear talks in Vienna on Friday concluded a “constructive” opening week with delegates from Iran, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom slated to return on Wednesday. US representatives are not officially part of the talks as Iran says it will not engage directly with them until all sanctions imposed by former President Donald Trump are lifted. However, European representatives relay messages to them.

‘Infiltration phenomenon’

On Monday, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the centrifuges that were taken out as a result of the attack were first-generation IR1 machines, which will now be replaced by more advanced versions.

The attack came one day after Iran began feeding gas to a variety of more advanced locally made machines, including dozens of IR6, IR6s and IR4 centrifuges, and also commenced mechanical tests on IR9 machines. The blackout further led to another incident as Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, broke his ankle and injured his head while inspecting the damage at the Natanz site. No details were published on how the incident happened.

It has also once more brought to the fore Iran’s shortcomings in protecting its nuclear assets. In a tweet on Sunday, the secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council suggested a fire had also broken out as part of the attack. “Could the reoccurrence of a fire at the Natanz nuclear facilities, in less than one year following the previous explosion, be a sign of the seriousness of the infiltration phenomenon?” asked Mohsen Rezaei, a former commander-in-chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

In June 2020, Natanz was hit by an explosion that caused a large fire, which was also suspected to have been orchestrated by Israel. Iran had said “sabotage is certain” in that explosion, but did not publish more information because of security concerns. Iran and Israel have been locked for more than a decade in a shadow war across the region that has recently increasingly spilled out in the open. The latest examples have come in the form of a series of attacks on Iranian and Israeli ships, and the brazen assassination of Iran’s top nuclear and military scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

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