Iran says world ‘must respond’ to Israel after blast at nuclear site

Government spokesman calls for ‘limits to these dangerous actions by the Zionist regime’; Mideast official says explosion at Natanz was meant as a ‘wake-up call’ to Tehran

Iran's government spokesman Ali Rabiei speaks at a regular news briefing, on July 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
Iran’s government spokesman Ali Rabiei speaks at a regular news briefing, on July 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Iran on Tuesday called for action against Israel, following a recent blast at the Natanz nuclear facility that has been blamed on the Jewish state.

“This method Israel is using is dangerous, and it could spread to anywhere in the world,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei said during a press conference, according to a translation of his remarks by Israel’s Channel 12 news.

He added: “The international community must respond and set limits to these dangerous actions by the Zionist regime.”

His comments came as Iran appeared to publicly acknowledge on Tuesday that last week’s fire at Natanz, which badly damaged a building used for producing centrifuges, was not an accident. Israeli TV reports, without naming sources, have said the blast destroyed the laboratory in which Iran developed faster centrifuges and set back the Iranian nuclear program by one or two years.

Nour News, seen as a mouthpiece of Iran’s Supreme Council of National Security, claimed that the blast at the Natanz facility, which came amid a series of mysterious disasters that struck sensitive Iranian sites in recent days, bore similarity to other strikes against the country’s security infrastructure.

While asserting that “an airstrike on the Natanz plant is almost impossible” due to its strong air defenses, an article on the site said that “the combination of intelligence, logistics, action and the volume of destruction” prove that the incident was deliberate.

The Washington Post and New York Times quoted Middle Eastern officials earlier this week as saying the blast at Natanz was caused by a large bomb planted by Israeli operatives.

“There was an opportunity, and someone in Israel calculated the risk and took the opportunity,” one official told the Post.

The official also called the blast a “wake-up call” meant to deter Iran amid advancements in its nuclear program, and said those who planted the explosives had significant insight into the country’s nuclear program.

“Doing such a thing takes some serious preparation and time,” the official said.

Iran admitted Sunday that Natanz incurred “considerable” damage from the fire, as satellite pictures appeared to show widespread devastation at the sensitive facility. It had previously sought to downplay the damage from the blaze, which analysts said had likely destroyed an above-ground lab being used to prepare advanced centrifuges before they were installed underground.

This photo released Thursday, July 2, 2020, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows a building after it was damaged by a fire, at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of Tehran, Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

A member of the Revolutionary Guard confirmed to the Times on Sunday that an explosive was used, but didn’t specify who was responsible.

According to an Israeli TV report Friday, Israel was bracing for a possible retaliation from Iran if it determines that Jerusalem was behind the explosion.

The building at Natanz was constructed in 2013 for the development of advanced centrifuges, though work was halted there in 2015 under the nuclear deal with world powers, Iran’s atomic agency spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said earlier this week. When the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal, work there was renewed, Kamalvandi said.

He claimed the fire had damaged “precision and measuring instruments,” and that the center had not been operating at full capacity due to restrictions imposed by the nuclear deal. Iran began experimenting with advanced centrifuge models in the wake of the US unilaterally withdrawing from the deal two years ago.

Nour News said the site served as home to Iran’s “modern centrifuges” of the IR-4 and IR-6 generations.

Iran long has denied seeking nuclear weapons, though the International Atomic Energy Agency previously said Iran had done work in “support of a possible military dimension to its nuclear program” that largely halted in late 2003.

Western concerns over the Iranian atomic program led to sanctions and eventually to the nuclear deal. The unilateral withdrawal of the US, under President Donald Trump, from the accord in May 2018 led to a series of escalating attacks between Iran and the US, and to Tehran abandoning the deal’s production limits.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.