DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran will take revenge on any country that carries out cyber attacks on its nuclear sites, the chief of civil defense said after a fire in his Natanz factory that some Iranian officials said may have been caused by cyber sabotage.
A view of a building damaged after a fire broke out at the Iran Nuclear Facility of Iran, in Isfahan, Iran, on July 2, 2020. Organization for Atomic Energy of Iran / WANA (News Agency of the Western Asia) via REUTER ATTENTION EDITORS ̵
The Natanz uranium enrichment site, largely underground, is one of several Iranian facilities monitored by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear watchdog.
Iran’s main security body said on Friday that the cause of the “accident” at the nuclear site has been determined, but “for security reasons” it would have been announced at an appropriate time.
The Iranian atomic energy organization initially reported that an “accident” occurred last Thursday in Natanz, located in the desert in central Isfahan province.
He later published a photo of a one-story brick building with a partially burnt roof and walls. A door hanging from its hinges suggested that there had been an explosion inside the building.
“The response to cyber attacks is part of the country’s defense. If it is proven that our country has been targeted by a cyber attack, we will respond,” civil defense chief Gholamreza Jalali said on state TV last Thursday.
An article published Thursday by the state-run IRNA news agency addressed what it called the possibility of sabotage by enemies like Israel and the United States, although it has stopped blaming it directly.
“So far Iran has tried to prevent escalating crises and the formation of unpredictable conditions and situations,” said IRNA. “But the crossing of the red lines of the Islamic Republic of Iran by hostile countries, especially the Zionist regime and the United States, means that the strategy … should be reviewed.”
Three Iranian officials who spoke anonymously to Reuters said they believed the fire was the result of a cyber attack, but did not mention any evidence.
One of the officials said the attack had targeted a centrifuge assembly building, referring to the delicate cylindrical machines that enrich uranium, and said that Iran’s enemies had performed similar acts in the past.
Two officials said Israel could have been behind the Natanz accident, but offered no evidence.
Asked Thursday evening about recent incidents reported on strategic Iranian sites, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters: “Clearly we cannot do it.”
The Israeli army and Netanyahu’s office, which oversees the Israeli foreign intelligence service Mossad, did not immediately respond to Reuters’ questions on Friday.
In 2010, the computer virus Stuxnet, believed to have been developed by the United States and Israel, was discovered after being used to attack the Natanz facility.
The IAEA said Friday that the site of the fire did not contain nuclear materials and that none of its inspectors were present at the time.
“The Agency has been in contact with the competent Iranian authorities to confirm that there will be no impact on its collateral verification activities, which should continue as before,” said an IAEA statement, adding that Iran he said the cause of the fire was not yet known.
Natanz is the centerpiece of Iran’s enrichment program, which according to Tehran is only for peaceful purposes. Western intelligence agencies and the IAEA believe they stopped a coordinated and clandestine nuclear weapons program in 2003.
Tehran denies ever seeking nuclear weapons, saying that its atomic program is for peaceful purposes only.
Iran has curbed its nuclear activities in exchange for removing most of the global sanctions under an agreement reached with six world powers in 2015, but has reduced compliance with the agreement’s restrictions since the United States withdrew in 2018.
Additional reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna; Written by Michael Georgy and Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich