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Iran Blames Israel for Sabotage        04/12 06:08


   DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Iran blamed Israel on Monday for a 
sabotage attack on its underground Natanz nuclear facility that damaged 
centrifuges it uses to enrich uranium, warning that it would avenge the assault.

   Israel has not claimed responsibility for the attack. However, suspicion 
fell immediately on it as Israeli media widely reported that the country had 
orchestrated a devastating cyberattack that caused the blackout.

   Sunday's assault and Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh's comments 
blaming Israel could imperil ongoing talks in Vienna with world powers about 
saving a tattered accord aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear program.

   If Israel was responsible, it would further heighten tensions between the 
two nations, already engaged in a shadow conflict across the wider Middle East. 
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met Sunday with U.S. Defense 
Secretary Lloyd Austin, has vowed to do everything in his power to stop the 
reviving of the nuclear deal.

   At a news conference at Israel's Nevatim air base Monday, where he viewed 
Israeli air and missile defense systems and its F-35 combat aircraft, Austin 
declined to say whether the Natanz attack could impede the Biden 
administration's efforts to re-engage with Iran in its nuclear program.

   "Those efforts will continue," Austin said. The previous American 
administration under Donald Trump had pulled out of the nuclear deal with world 
powers, leading Iran to begin abandoning its limits.

   Details remained scarce about what happened early Sunday at the facility. 
The event was initially described as a blackout caused by the electrical grid 
feeding its above-ground workshops and underground enrichment halls.

   "The answer for Natanz is to take revenge against Israel," Khatibzadeh said. 
"Israel will receive its answer through its own path." He did not elaborate.

   Khatibzadeh acknowledged that IR-1 centrifuges, the first-generation 
workhorse of Iran's uranium enrichment, had been damaged in the attack, but did 
not elaborate. State television has yet to show images from the facility.

   A former chief of Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard said the attack 
had also set off a fire at the site and called for improvements in security. In 
a tweet, Gen. Mohsen Rezaei said that the second attack at Natanz in a year 
signaled "the seriousness of the infiltration phenomenon." Rezaei did not say 
where he got his information.

   Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif separately warned Natanz would 
be reconstructed with more advanced machines. That would allow Iran to more 
quickly enrich uranium, complicating talks on the deal.

   "The Zionists wanted to take revenge against the Iranian people for their 
success on the path of lifting sanctions," Iran's state-run IRNA news agency 
quoted Zairf as saying. "But we do not allow (it), and we will take revenge for 
this action against the Zionists."

   Officials launched an effort Monday to provide emergency power to Natanz, 
said Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's civilian nuclear program. He said the 
sabotage had not stopped enrichment there, without elaborating.

   The IAEA, the United Nations body that monitors Tehran's atomic program, 
earlier said it was aware of media reports about the blackout at Natanz and had 
spoken with Iranian officials about it. The agency did not elaborate.

   Natanz has been targeted by sabotage in the past. The Stuxnet computer 
virus, discovered in 2010 and widely believed to be a joint U.S.-Israeli 
creation, once disrupted and destroyed Iranian centrifuges there during an 
earlier period of Western fears about Tehran's program.

   In July, Natanz suffered a mysterious explosion at its advanced centrifuge 
assembly plant that authorities later described as sabotage. Iran now is 
rebuilding that facility deep inside a nearby mountain. Iran also blamed Israel 
for the November killing of a scientist who began the country's military 
nuclear program decades earlier.

   Multiple Israeli media outlets reported Sunday that an Israeli cyberattack 
caused the blackout. Public broadcaster Kan said the Mossad was behind the 
attack. Channel 12 TV cited "experts" as estimating the attack shut down entire 
sections of the facility.

   While the reports offered no sourcing for their information, Israeli media 
maintains a close relationship with the country's military and intelligence 

   "It's hard for me to believe it's a coincidence," Yoel Guzansky, a senior 
fellow at Tel Aviv's Institute for National Security Studies, said of the 
blackout. "If it's not a coincidence, and that's a big if, someone is trying to 
send a message that 'we can limit Iran's advance and we have red lines.'"

   It also sends a message that Iran's most sensitive nuclear site is 
penetrable, he added.

   Netanyahu late Sunday toasted his security chiefs, with the head of the 
Mossad, Yossi Cohen, at his side on the eve of his country's Independence Day.

   "It is very difficult to explain what we have accomplished," Netanyahu said 
of Israel's history, saying the country had been transformed from a position of 
weakness into a "world power."

   Israel typically doesn't discuss operations carried out by its Mossad 
intelligence agency or specialized military units. In recent weeks, Netanyahu 
repeatedly has described Iran as the major threat to his country as he 
struggles to hold onto power after multiple elections and while facing 
corruption charges.

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