A “very beautiful” attack

We’re learning more about Israel’s attack on Iran’s nuclear facility at Natanz. Initially, the event was reported as a cyber attack and cyber may, in fact, have played a part. However, explosives were the main component.

The Jerusalem Post reports that the attack was carried out through a device smuggled into the facility and detonated remotely. The explosives reportedly took out both the primary and backup electrical systems. (At Natanz, the electrical substation reportedly is 40 to 50 meters below ground.) The initial explosion is believed to have set off secondary explosions, causing even greater damage.

An attack last July was carried out with explosives smuggled into a centrifuge assembly facility at the site. The explosives reportedly were embedded in a heavy table that was brought into the facility. An Iranian official says that this time a desk was used.

Another possibility is that the explosive device was placed in components before they were installed at Natanz, so that no agent was needed to smuggle them in. This theory was offered by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert in an interview.

Either way — whether the explosives got in through smuggling or pre-installation — Israel’s accomplishment is stunningly impressive. Even the Iranians paid tribute. The former head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization acknowledged that “the design of the enemy was very beautiful.”

But Iran is reluctant to credit Israel. A government spokesman claims that the explosion was “not an external attack” and that a “traitor” has been identified. It may be that Israel used a “traitor” to help execute the attack.

How much damage did the explosions cause? The Iranians say that “thousands of centrifuges” were damaged. Centrifuges spin a gaseous uranium compound at high speeds to separate out and concentrate uranium-235, the fissile isotope of uranium needed for nuclear to fuel a reactor or nuclear bomb. The head of Iran’s Parliament Research Center announced on television that the destruction of the centrifuges has damaged “most of the enrichment facilities” at Natanz.

Israeli intelligence officials say it could take at least nine months to restore production at the facility. However, Iranian officials counter that the impacted centrifuges were first-generation machines and will be replaced with more advanced ones.

Steve has noted the oddity of Israeli sources being so forthcoming about their country’s role in the attack on the Natanz facility. He attributes the openness to Israel’s desire to send a signal to the U.S. — a signal, I assume, that it lacks faith in Joe Biden’s approach to Iran. In this regard, it might (or might not) be relevant that Israel reportedly did not inform the U.S. in advance about the attack.

Former Israeli intelligence officials are expressing displeasure with leaks about Israel’s operation. I agree with Steve that even without the leaks, Israel’s role would be clear.

It’s not a good idea for Israelis to be talking with any specificity about how the attack was carried out. However, with the exception of Olmert’s speculation, that information seems to be coming from Iran.

This much is clear. Israel isn’t going to rely on Joe Biden to protect itself from Iran and the threat posed by the regime’s nuclear program. That would be foolish.

STEVE adds: One of the many benefits of the whole series of Israeli direct actions inside Iran in recent months/years is that they are surely causing a counter-intelligence crisis inside Iran. I suspect there are numerous mole hunts under way that are causing huge tensions within Iran’s spy agencies and military circles. How do you say “James Angleton” in Farsi I wonder?

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