Israel: Pledges to work with US ‘on Iran’. Appears to take credit for Natanz cyberattack

Israel says it will work with US while appearing to take credit for Natanz ‘accident.

12 April 2021 | Clipper Media

Israel pledges to work with U.S. on Iran

Reuters | 11 April 2021

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israel’s defence minister pledged on Sunday to cooperate with the United States on Iran, voicing hope that Israeli security would be safeguarded under any renewed Iranian nuclear deal that Washington reaches.

“Israel views the United States as a full partner across all operational theatres, not the least Iran,” Benny Gantz said after hosting visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

“And we will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world and the United States, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region and protect the State of Israel.”

Austin, making the first visit to Israel by a senior Biden administration official, told his counterpart that Washington views the alliance with Israel as central to regional security.

Austin’s visit includes talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is worried about the Democratic administration’s desire for a U.S. return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal with major powers, which the previous Republican administration quit.

Netanyahu has said Israel will not be bound by a renewed deal, which he describes as a temporary cap on Iranian nuclear capabilities that would pave the way to bomb-production in the longer-run. Tehran says its atomic ambitions are purely peaceful.

Israeli officials have long threatened last-ditch military action against Iran if they deem foreign diplomacy a dead-end.

In his public remarks, Austin did not comment on Iran specifically. He said the Biden administration would continue to ensure Israel’s “qualitative military edge” in the Middle East as part of a “strong commitment to Israel and the Israeli people”.

“Our bilateral relationship with Israel in particular is central to regional stability and security in the Middle East. During our meeting I reaffirmed to Minister Gantz our commitment to Israel is enduring and it is ironclad,” Austin said.

Israel and Iran have in recent weeks reported sabotage to their ships at sea. Syria has accused Israel of air strikes on its territory. Israel says it is trying to stem a build-up of Iranian forces within next-door Syria.

On Sunday, Iran’s Press TV said an electricity problem had caused an incident at the Natanz underground uranium enrichment site, without casualties or pollution. Israel, which lists cyber-sabotage in its arsenal, did not comment.

A satellite image of the Natanz nuclear facility. Photograph: Maxar Tech/AFP/Getty

Guardian | 11 April 2021

Israel appears to confirm it carried out cyberattack on Iran nuclear facility

Israel appeared to confirm claims that it was behind a cyber-attack on Iran’s main nuclear facility on Sunday, which Tehran’s nuclear energy chief described as an act of terrorism that warranted a response against its perpetrators.

The apparent attack took place hours after officials at the Natanz reactor restarted spinning advanced centrifuges that could speed up the production of enriched uranium, in what had been billed as a pivotal moment in the country’s nuclear programme.

As Iranian authorities scrambled to deal with a large-scale blackout at Natanz, which the country’s Atomic Energy Agency acknowledged had damaged the electricity grid at the site, the Israeli defence chief, Aviv Kochavi, said the country’s “operations in the Middle East are not hidden from the eyes of the enemy”.

Israel imposed no censorship restrictions on coverage as it had often done after similar previous incidents and the apparent attack was widely covered by Israeli media. Public radio took the unusual step of claiming that the Mossad intelligence agency had played a central role.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said later Sunday that “the struggle against Iran and its proxies and the Iranian armament efforts is a huge mission”.

“The situation that exists today will not necessarily be the situation that will exist tomorrow,” he added, without elaborating.

The unexplained shutdown is thought to be the latest in a series of exchanges between the two arch-enemies, who have fought an extensive and escalating shadow war across the Middle East over more than decade, centred on Iran’s nuclear programme and its involvement in matters beyond its borders.

Clashes have more recently been fought in the open, with strikes against 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 there have claimed was environmental sabotage.

Natanz has remained a focal point of Israeli fears, with an explosion damaging a centrifuge assembly plant last July, and a combined CIA and the Mossad cyber-attack using a computer virus called Stuxnet in 2010 that caused widespread disruption and delayed Iran’s nuclear programme for several years.

Iran’s nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, urged the international community and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to take action against the perpetrators of the attack. He confirmed that a “terrorist attack” had damaged the electricity grid of the Natanz site. The IAEA said it was aware of the reports but declined to comment further.

The attack was carried out by “opponents of the country’s industrial and political progress, who aim to prevent development of a thriving nuclear industry,” Salehi said.

Malek Chariati, spokesman for the Iranian parliament’s energy commission, claimed it was sabotage.

“This incident, coming (the day after) National Nuclear Technology Day, as Iran endeavours to press the West into lifting sanctions, is strongly suspected to be sabotage or infiltration,” Chariati said.

The developments came as US president Joe Biden prepared to reactivate a bitterly contested deal to offer sanctions relief in return for Tehran limiting its nuclear programme and not pursuing the development of a nuclear weapon. The 2015 pact was the foreign policy centrepiece of Barack Obama’s administration, but was quickly shredded by his successor, Donald Trump, who instead shifted to an aggressive posture to strangle Iran’s economy while bolstering its regional foes.

The US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, arrived in Tel Aviv on Sunday, partly to sell Washington’s new position to sceptical Israeli officials, who fear that even a scaled-back Iranian programme would offer cover for building a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the eastern Mediterranean.

After meeting Austin, Israel’s defence minister, Benny Gantz, said: “We will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world, of the United States, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region, and protect the state of Israel.”

The attack on Natanz came five days after an apparent Israeli mine attack on an Iranian freighter in the Red Sea, which western intelligence officials have long claimed was a command and control vessel used to support the Tehran-backed Houthis in the war in Yemen.

The cargo ship, known as the Saviz, was seriously damaged by at least one mine, which detonated below the waterline. The ship sent several mayday calls, which were received by the nearby Saudi Arabian coastguard. The strike was the latest in a series of reprisal attacks on shipping from each country on regional waters over several years, much of which has gone unacknowledged.

It was followed by a series of Israeli airstrikes in Syria that damaged a military base near Damascus allegedly used by proxies loyal to Iran providing support to the Lebanese militia and political powerhouse, Hezbollah, which remains an essential arm of Iranian foreign policy.

Israel last year broke its silence on eight years of airstrikes in Syria, acknowledging that it had been responsible for about 1,000 attacks, which it says were primarily aimed at preventing Hezbollah from fitting advanced guidance systems to rudimentary rockets on Lebanese soil.

The Israeli strikes in Syria have caused widespread damage to the country’s military infrastructure, already ravaged by a decade of uprising and war, and have driven diplomatic efforts, led by the United Arab Emirates, to pressure the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, to sever an alliance with Iran that has helped him to remain as leader. Despite the urging of several trusted security officials, and the backing of Russia, which has also played a role in securing his regime, Assad has refused the overtures.

Hezbollah, which has provided military muscle on behalf of Iran, remains vehemently opposed to such a suggestion, with senior officials fearing that such a repositioning may be aimed at eventually forcing peace talks with its archfoe.

Western officials believe Israel has become increasingly brazen in its attempts to disrupt the Iranian programme, pointing to the killing of the country’s leading nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, last November, who was shot dead along with his bodyguards on a rural highway. Iran claims that artificial intelligence was used to identify Fakhrizadeh, who was gunned down by a remotely operated automatic weapon. The small lorry carrying the weapon then exploded.

‘Accident’ hits Iran’s Natanz nuclear site, day after advanced centrifuges start

11 April | Times of Israel

Iran’s Natanz nuclear site suffered a problem Sunday involving its electrical distribution grid just hours after starting up new advanced centrifuges that more quickly enrich uranium, state TV reported.

It was the latest incident to strike one of Tehran’s most-secured sites amid negotiations over the tattered atomic accord with world powers.

State TV quoted Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), announcing the incident.

The word state television used in its report attributed to Kamalvandi in Farsi can be used for both “accident” and “incident.” It didn’t immediately clarify the report, which ran at the bottom of its screen on its live broadcast.

The AEOI did not immediately issue a formal statement about the incident on its website.

Israel has been blamed for an attack on an advanced centrifuge development and assembly plant at Natanz in July. It has also been blamed, together with the US, for the Stuxnet virus that sabotaged Iranian enrichment centrifuges a decade ago.

Tehran and Jerusalem are currently believed to be engaged in a maritime shadow war, with both sides blaming the other for explosions on vessels.

Amid rising tensions in the region surrounding Iran’s nuclear activities and a possible revival of the 2015 nuclear accord, a deal Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vehemently opposed, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will arrive in Israel on Sunday for talks with senior officials.

Iran announced on Saturday that it had started up advanced IR-6 and IR-5 centrifuges that enrich uranium more quickly, in a new breach of its undertakings under the troubled 2015 nuclear agreement.

It also said it has begun mechanical tests on an even faster nuclear centrifuge: The output of Iran’s IR-9 centrifuge, when operational, would be 50 times quicker than the first Iranian centrifuge, the IR-1, which is the only one that the 2015 deal allows it to use. Iran’s nuclear program is also developing IR-8 centrifuges.

On Friday night, Kamalvandi said the country was enriching material at a rapid pace — in violation of the nuclear deal — adding that should “Western parties” continue to delay the lifting of sanctions, they would be the “big loser.”

“The number of our centrifuges and the amount of enriched (nuclear) material are increasing rapidly,” said Behrouz Kamalvandi in comments broadcast on Instagram and cited by the Tasnim news agency Saturday.

On Friday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a report that Iran had again violated limits on its stockpile of enriched uranium, according to Reuters.

The IAEA report does not explicitly say that Iran violated the deal’s terms, but the agency releases such reports when a breach occurs. Diplomatic sources told Reuters that the report indicated that a breach of the deal had occurred.

The 2015 deal placed strict limits on Iran’s uranium stockpile. The IAEA determined on Wednesday that Iran had violated those limits by recovering uranium from items called scrap fuel plates.

Iran met with the deal’s signatories in Vienna last week. The talks broke Friday, with no clear signs of progress.

The US said it had offered “very serious” ideas on reviving the nuclear accord but was waiting for Tehran to reciprocate.Iran’s Governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),

US President Joe Biden hopes to return to the 2015 agreement, which his predecessor Donald Trump had trashed as he launched a “maximum pressure” campaign in hopes of bringing Tehran to its knees.

Biden argues that the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated under former president Barack Obama had been successful, with UN inspectors saying Iran was meeting its promises to scale back nuclear work dramatically.

Iran has demanded that the United States first lift all sanctions imposed by Trump, which include a sweeping unilateral ban on its oil exports, before it falls back in line with obligations it suspended.

The “US —- which caused this crisis —- should return to full compliance first,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter, adding that “Iran will reciprocate following rapid verification.”

Talks are set to resume Wednesday with Iran again meeting the other nations in the deal — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia as well as the European Union.


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