On the 11th of April 2021, Israeli attacked the Iranian nuclear plant in Natanz, which resulted in an explosion and a power outage through the area. The blast was caused by a bomb that had been taken into the nuclear plant and detonated. It resulted in great damage, which is estimated to take approximately nine months, or even more, to be recovered. Luckily, no human victims resulted from the incident. Another consequence of the attack is that it affected Iran’s capability of uranium enrichment, a policy that the state is currently imposing and that comes against the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) terms.
The attack occurred in the context of the reopened negotiations for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iranian nuclear deal. The negotiations took place during the previous week, in Vienna, being a result of the aim pursued by the Biden administration to rejoin the JCPOA, after the former President of the US chose to withdraw in 2018.
The Natanz nuclear site has been subject to numerous attacks in recent history. It has previously been hit in a cyber-attack orchestrated by the United States together with Israel and some European countries, in 2007. Then, in 2020, an explosion also carried out by Israel took place at the site. This time, the attack occurred right on the anniversary of the National Nuclear Day of Iran, which is a bit suspect and which leaves a door open for interpretation of this act, as well as launching multiple paths for speculations with regards to the reasons and the goals behind the attack.
It is widely considered that Israel stood behind the attack, even though, up to the moment, the Israeli officials have neither confirmed nor denied the involvement in the blast at the Natanz nuclear plant. The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, is against Iran becoming a nuclear power and he stated that Iran will not obtain the nuclear weapon while he is in power: “My policy as prime minister of Israel is clear – I will never allow Iran to obtain the nuclear capability to carry out its genocidal goal of eliminating Israel.”
Moreover, Iran suspected that the United States has also been involved in the attack, but US officials have denied these claims: “The US was not involved in any manner. […] We have nothing to add on speculation about the causes or the impacts.” Jen Psaki, the Press Secretary of the White House stated on Monday.
In a statement, the spokesman of the Foreign Minister of Iran, Saeed Khatibzadeh, threatened that revenge will come as a consequence of the Israeli attack and that “Israel will receive its answer through its own path”. Also, the Foreign Minister of Iran, Mohammad Javad Zarif, called the Israeli attack a terrorist one and an act of “nuclear terrorism”.
Furthermore, as a response to the attack and to the fact that the blast affects Iran’s uranium enrichment capability, President Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran will work out to enrich its uranium capacity up to 60%. In this case, a 60% uranium enrichment is a very high number, considering the fact that Iran was enriching uranium at a 20% rate before the JCPOA was signed and that the deal decreased the percentage to below 4%. Since January, Iran returned to the 20% rate, after the main nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was assassinated. The attack was perceived as an attempt to minimize Iran’s nuclear power and the President made it clear that it does not make Iran weaker, but only more eager to increase its power and nuclear capacity: “Our first response is to use IR6 centrifuges instead of IR1 centrifuges so that they understand that they cannot hold us from this power. […] That they see we have activated IR6 centrifuges in Natanz and that we will reach 60% enrichment is our response to their wickedness and that they can’t commit plots and crimes against Iran and for us not to do anything.” This move takes Iran a step closer to the 90% uranium purity, that is needed for the nuclear weapon, but the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran addressed this concern of the great powers. He sustained that Iran is not interested in obtaining nuclear weapon, even though they have the possibility to do so. He also asked the world powers to stick to the JCPOA: “Even today, if we wish, we can enrich uranium at 90% purity. But we are not seeking a nuclear bomb … If others return to full compliance with the deal … we will stop 60% and 20% enrichment.”
Regarding this issue, the former Iranian Minister of Defense, Brigadier General Hossein Dehghan, who is now a military advisor stated in an interview that: “Iran’s action to increase the enrichment to 60% is not a threat to the regional countries, and on the contrary, we do not consider these countries a threat to us. The presence of foreign powers in the region is the cause of all the problems and tensions. […] Our defense capability is in the interest of the region and will not be against Islamic countries”. Besides this, Brigadier General Hossein Dehghan went on to warn the enemies of Iran that any attack or aggressive act towards the state will result in a proportionate response, adding that Iran is well-prepared for any kind of threat: “Any hostile move will be met with a tough and practical response at due time and place so that [the enemy] will no longer repeat its move. Iran is fully prepared to face any threat or aggression, and our forces are monitoring all hostile movements”.
The United Nations nuclear watchdog in Iran confirmed that Iran has completed the necessary preparations to pursue its newly-announced goal of enriching uranium up to 60%. The representatives of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stated that in a discussion with Iranian officials they have been told that “the necessary pipework was being finalized and … centrifuges would start soon thereafter”.
Three European powers involved in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, namely the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, are seriously worried about the plans of Iran to enrich uranium with 60%. They have added that the implementation of this action would only damage the already fragile relationship between Iran and the United States. The relationship between Iran and the US has been tenser as the negotiations have begun because Iran does not want to return to the JCPOA until the United States will lift all sanctions and the US refuses to lift sanctions until Iran will return to the initial conditions of the agreement regarding its nuclear capacity. Both of them are waiting for the other to take the first step and, in this case, the recent decision of Iran to proceed with a 60% uranium enrichment is certainly no good news for the Biden administration, for the other signatories of the deal and for those who hope for a reconciliation of US-Iran relationship. Also, the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, went further to criticizing the attack and its negative outcomes.
The Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, discussed on Wednesday, in which the Iranian president called for cooperation for peace, security, and stability. He also emphasized how dangerous Israel is and that it would be unsafe for Israel to gain regional support, asking the Turkish president not to show support for Israel.
The incident remains a threat for the ongoing negotiations to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as well as a factor that increases the tensions both between Iran and the United States and between Iran and Israel.
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About the author:
Delia-Maria MOTAN is Intern research at MEPEI, and her research interest lies in international relations and political science in the Middle East. Currently, she is studying at the Faculty of the Political Science / University of Bucharest.