TEL AVIV — Israel was behind an explosion at an Iranian nuclear facility last week that caused “significant damage” and set back Tehran’s nuclear program by months, The New York Times reported Thursday citing a Middle Eastern intelligence official.
A building used for producing centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear site was hit with a powerful bomb, the official told the newspaper.
A member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps also confirmed to the newspaper an explosive was used. He ruled out cyberattacks as the cause.
Iran admitted the blast had caused serious damage to the site as satellite images were released last week, contradicting previous remarks in which Tehran downplayed the severity of the fire.
“We first learned that, fortunately, there were no casualties as a result of the incident, but financial damages incurred to the site due to incident were considerable,” said Iran’s atomic agency spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi.
Kamalvandi also admitted the damaged building was indeed a centrifuge center and not an “industrial shed,” as originally claimed.
“The damaged warehouse was designed for the final stages of advanced centrifuges and assembly of these machineries,” he said.
“More advanced centrifuge machines were intended to be built there,” he said, adding the damage would “possibly cause a delay in development and production of advanced centrifuge machines in the medium term.”
According to the Revolutionary Guards member, the blaze was likely sparked by someone carrying a bomb into the building. “They do not yet know how or when the explosives were sneaked in, but the attack clearly demonstrated a hole in the facility’s security,” the report cited him as saying.
The report also noted Israel’s demonstrable ability to strike deep inside Iran, when Mossad spies infiltrated a top-secret warehouse in Tehran in 2018, and spirited half a ton of documents on the regime’s nuclear weapons program back to Israel that same night.
Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz remained tight-lipped but didn’t deny the allegations outright.
“Everyone can suspect us in everything and all the time, but I don’t think that’s correct,” he told KAN radio on Sunday.
“Not every event that happens in Iran is necessarily related to us,” he added.
On Thursday, Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman indicated that Mossad chief Yossi Cohen was behind the Times leak.
“An intelligence official says that Israel is responsible for an explosion in Iran on Thursday. The country’s entire security echelon knows who it is,” Liberman said.
“I expect the prime minister to shut [the leaker’s] mouth, especially since he has started his Likud primary campaign,” Liberman added.
Cohen’s name has come up as a potential successor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Mossad grew in both personnel and budgets under Cohen, and he has led several espionage campaigns targeting Tehran’s nuclear program.
Netanyahu on Sunday announced that he was extending the spymaster’s term for another year, citing “security challenges.”
The Jerusalem Post cited former Mossad chief of analysis Sima Shine as saying that the damage caused to the centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear facility will greatly limit Iran’s future options for “breaking out to a nuclear weapon.”