Iran blames Israel for attack on Natanz nuclear site, vows revenge

Photo: AP In this April 10, 2021, file photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian presidency, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, second from right, listens to the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi while visiting an exhibition of Iran's new nuclear achievements in Tehran.

Iran charged on Monday that its arch-enemy Israel was "of course" behind an attack on its main nuclear site, the Natanz uranium enrichment plant, and vowed "revenge... in due time".

The Natanz site near Tehran was hit by a power outage on Sunday that Iran labelled "terrorism". No one was injured and there was no radiation release, Iran said.

The latest of a string of incidents hitting Iran's nuclear programme came days after talks resumed in Vienna to salvage the battered 2015 Iranian nuclear deal that former US president Donald Trump abandoned. His successor Joe Biden wants to revive the agreement between Iran and a group of world powers, which places limits on the Islamic republic's nuclear programme in return for relief from biting economic sanctions.

Israel strongly opposes the deal and has vowed to disrupt any efforts by the Islamic republic to build an atomic bomb -- a goal Tehran has always strongly denied pursuing.

Tehran has blamed Israel's Mossad spy service for previous attacks on its nuclear facilities and experts - including the killing last November of its top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Monday it was clear the latest incident too was an Israeli act of sabotage.

"Of course the Zionist regime, with this action, tried to take revenge on the people of Iran for their patience and wise attitude regarding the lifting of sanctions," he told a press conference.

Khatibzadeh vowed that Iran's response would be to take "revenge on the Zionist regime" when and where it chooses.

"If the purpose was to interrupt the path of lifting the oppressive sanctions against Iran, they will certainly not reach their goal."

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was quoted as saying Tehran would not allow the attack to affect the Vienna talks, to avoid "falling in the trap" set by Israel, state news agency IRNA reported.

Israel has not claimed responsibility for the Natanz incident but unsourced media reports in the country attributed it to the Israeli security services. Israeli public broadcast journalist Amichai Stein tweeted Sunday that "the assessment is" that the Natanz incident is the "result of an Israeli cyber operation", without providing evidence.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has always been a fierce critic of the Iran nuclear deal.

On Wednesday, the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, he said the Jewish state would not be bound to any agreement that would enable Iran to develop "weapons that threaten our extinction".

Netanyahu was due to meet visiting US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday.

While Trump from 2018 ramped up crippling sanctions against Iran in a "maximum pressure" campaign, Iran later responded by progressively rolling back its own commitments under the agreement.

The Natanz blackout came a day after Tehran announced on Saturday, Iran's National Nuclear Technology Day, that it had started up advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges banned under the deal.

In a televised ceremony, President Hassan Rouhani inaugurated a cascade of 164 IR-6 centrifuges for producing enriched uranium, as well as two test cascades of 30 IR-5 and 30 IR-6S devices respectively.

The equipment enables quicker enrichment of uranium and in higher quantities, to levels that violate Iran's commitments under its deal with the five permanent UN Security Council powers plus Germany.

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