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Iran accuses Israel of June attack on alleged centrifuge plant

Iran on Tuesday accused Israel of a sabotage attack in June that reportedly targeted a nuclear facility near Tehran, the official IRNA news agency reported.

According to the report, cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei said the alleged attack sought to thwart ongoing talks in Vienna on resurrecting Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers. IRNA quoted Rabiei as saying such actions only make Iran stronger.

“The Zionist regime carried out this action to signal it can stop Iran and to say [to world powers] that there is no need to talk with Iran,” said Rabiei. “But whenever sabotage has happened, our strength has increased.”

Iran has offered few details on the attack it said targeted a sprawling nuclear center located in Karaj, a city about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of the Iranian capital. On June 23, state TV said it was an attempted attack against a building belonging to Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization that left no casualties or damage.

Rabiei on Monday said there was damage to the ceiling and also that “damage to equipment was not remarkable.”

“A hole appeared on the ceiling of one of the industrial sheds so the roof was removed for repair,” Rabiei said.

He said a satellite image that was distributed at the time was taken after the roof of the shed had been removed for repairs.

His comments came several days after an Israeli report said experts believe the attack caused extensive damage, destroying or disabling all equipment at part of the site, which was allegedly used for producing centrifuges to enrich uranium.

On Saturday, private Israeli intelligence group The Intel Lab Saturday said that the roof had largely been dismantled by Iran as part of rehabilitation activities following the attack.

The dismantled roof allowed analysts to peek inside, where dark coloration indicated the presence of a large fire in the building, the smallest of three main structures at the site.

Iranian authorities did not specify which facility in Karaj had been targeted. There are two sites associated with Iran’s nuclear program known to be in the area, including the Karaj Agricultural and Medical Research Center, founded in 1974. Authorities describe it as a facility that uses nuclear technology to improve “quality of soil, water, agricultural and livestock production.”

The area is located near various industrial sites, including pharmaceutical production facilities where Iran has manufactured its domestic coronavirus vaccine.

The agricultural nuclear research center is not listed as a “safeguard facility” with the UN nuclear watchdog — the International Atomic Energy Agency — though a nearby nuclear waste facility around Karaj is.

Previously, social media in Iran crackled with unconfirmed reports that an unmanned aerial drone was prevented from targeting a COVID-19 vaccine production facility.

The Karaj incident followed several suspected attacks targeting Iran’s nuclear program that have heightened regional tensions in recent months, as diplomatic efforts gain traction in Vienna.

In April, Iran’s underground Natanz nuclear facility experienced a mysterious blackout that damaged some of its centrifuges. Last July, unexplained fires struck the advanced centrifuge assembly plant at Natanz, which authorities later described as sabotage. Iran is now rebuilding that facility deep inside a nearby mountain.

According to a New York Times report last month, the factory at Karaj was tasked with replacing damaged centrifuges at Natanz.

Iran also blames Israel for the November killing of a scientist who began the country’s military nuclear program decades earlier.

Former US president Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw America in 2018 from the nuclear deal has seen Iran, over time, abandon all limitations on its uranium enrichment. The country is now enriching uranium to 60 percent, its highest ever levels, although still shy of weapons grade. Iran has claimed that its nuclear ambitions are peaceful and that it will return to its commitments once the US lifts its sanctions.

While Iran maintains that the Karaj facility is used for civilian purposes, the country has been subjected to United Nations, European Union and American sanctions since at least 2007 for being involved in nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The US lifted those sanctions under the 2015 nuclear deal, but then reimposed them in 2018 when Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord.

Source: AP and TOI