A report in Al-Jarida, a Kuwaiti newspaper, said that Israel was behind the fire and an explosion that struck a centrifuge production plant above Iran’s underground Natanz nuclear enrichment facility on Thursday.
Natanz is one of the most tightly guarded sites in all of the Islamic Republic.
The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran sought to downplay the fire, calling it an “incident” that only affected an under-construction “industrial shed,” spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said. However, both Kamalvandi and Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi rushed after the fire to Natanz, a facility earlier targeted by the Stuxnet computer virus and built underground to withstand enemy airstrikes.
According to the newspaper, which previously exposed Israeli activity in the Gulf and is considered reliable, the explosion was caused by an “Israeli cyberattack” that targeted computers that control the pressure gauges inside gas containers. Tehran has allegedly lost 80% of the uranium hexafluoride gas it needs in order to enrich uranium.
On Thursday, experts did not rule out the possibility of sabotage given the importance of the Natanz nuclear site.
“Considering that this so-called incident happened just a few days after the explosion near the Parchin military base, the possibility of sabotage cannot be ruled out,” a former Iranian nuclear official said. “Also, the Natanz enrichment facility has been targeted in the past by a computer virus,” he said, referring to an attack in 2010 by the Stuxnet computer virus that damaged centrifuges and is widely believed to have been developed by the United States and Israel.
Last Friday an explosion occurred east of Tehran near the Parchin military and weapons development base that the authorities said was caused by a tank leak in a gas storage facility in a public area.
Western security services believe Tehran carried out tests relevant to nuclear bomb detonations more than a decade ago at Parchin. Iran has denied it carried out such tests.
Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for the removal of most international sanctions in a deal reached between Tehran and six world powers in 2015.
But Tehran has gradually reduced its commitments to the accord since President Donald Trump’s administration withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and reimposed and intensified sanctions that have battered Iran‘s economy.
The deal only allows Iran to enrich uranium at Natanz facility with just over 5,000 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges, but Iran has installed new cascades of advanced centrifuges.
Israel has backed Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy on Tehran aimed at forcing it to agree to a new deal that puts stricter limits on its nuclear work, curbs its ballistic missile program and ends its regional proxy wars.
Iran says it will not negotiate as long as sanctions remain in place.