Iran and Israel entered into a new phase of their shadow war over the nuclear arms program of the Islamic Republic and its attempt to expand Tehran’s influence across the Middle East.
It is well known that Israel launched more than 1,000 airstrikes on Iranian weapons transports to proxies in Syria in order to prevent the further build-up of an anti-Israel force under the banner of the “Golan Liberation Brigade.”
This campaign has so far prevented the Iranians from getting a solid foothold on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, but the story doesn’t end there. The Iranians now use an Afghan militia to cobble together a giant force that seems to be preparing for conflict with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in the near future.
Battle for the seas
There have also been recent reports regarding Israeli naval efforts to disrupt illicit oil transports to Syria, and a ship belonging to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps has been attacked by the Israelis in the Red Sea causing only damage to the vessel.
Foreign media reported more attacks on ships that were illegally transporting oil to Syria from Iran. In the end, Iran finally responded by attacking Israeli-owned ships in the Persian Gulf.
Last Tuesday, the MV Hyperion Ray – which sails under a Bahamian flag but is Israeli owned – came under missile fire near the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf of Oman. Nobody took responsibility for the attack but Israeli officials believe Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps was behind the incident. It was the third time an Israeli-owned ship had been attacked in the Persian Gulf over the last month.
Unrelenting air strikes
For its part, Israel continues to attack illicit weapons transports to Iran’s allies in Syria and Lebanon. Just three days ago local Syrian media reported fresh Israeli airstrikes on weapons depots in the vicinity of Damascus. Local state-controlled media said that a number of anti-aircraft missiles hit their targets, while one rocket fell on Lebanese soil. The Israel Air Force reported that all planes had returned safely.
The big news, however, in the shadow war between Iran and Israel came from the Natanz nuclear facility.
Last weekend, just as the new US Administration of President Joe Biden was engaging in fresh talks with the Islamic Republic over rejoining the JCPOA, the 2015 landmark nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers, a mysterious event happened at Natanz.
According to the latest information, explosives were used to disrupt the nuclear base’s internal power system. The explosion caused severe damage to the site and it could take up to nine months to repair the damage. The strike took place only a day after Iran proudly introduced new uranium enrichment centrifuges at Natanz in a new breach of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).
The IR-5 and IR-6 centrifuges will enable Iran to speed up uranium enrichment significantly. News of the advanced centrifuges came less than a year after Israel, via the Mossad, launched a devastating strike against a new facility at Natanz.
After the Israeli act of sabotage at Natanz, Iran decided to quickly assemble a new hall for the uranium enrichment and is now working to remove all sensitive facilities at the plant to underground facilities that are expected to be ready next year.
Initially, Iranian officials blamed the explosion on an accident, but later admitted that a foreign power was responsible for the “sabotage” or “terror.”
Alireza Zakani, the head of the Iranian parliament’s research center, said that several thousands of centrifuges were damaged and destroyed.
Zakani’s remarks could not independently be confirmed, but Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that if Iran determines that Israel was behind the latest attack on Natanz “then it will get its response and will see what a stupid thing it has done.”
A dangerous deal
The incident in Natanz came just a day after the United States and Iran opened fresh indirect negotiations in Vienna about rejoining the original nuclear deal (JCPOA).
The sides communicate with each other via European diplomats and the talks have reportedly been stalled over differences about who will make the first step in order to reach a situation whereby the Islamic Republic comes in full compliance with the JCPOA.
That means that Iran stops enriching uranium above the 3.5 percent level and gets rid of its stockpile of more than 1,000 kilograms of enriched uranium above the 20 percent level.
In turn, the US will lift all the sanctions that the previous US Administration of President Donald J. Trump had slapped on Iran.
Israel has already announced that it will not be bound by a revised nuclear accord between Iran and six world powers in case the US rejoins the JCPOA.
Israel’s long arm
The government in Jerusalem and the Chief of Staff of the IDF, Aviv Kochavi, hinted that it was Israel that was behind the new attack on Natanz.
“The IDF’s actions throughout the Middle East are not hidden from our enemies, who are observing us, seeing our capabilities, and carefully considering their next steps,” Kochavi said during a speech honoring Israel’s fallen soldiers.
It is widely believed that the Israeli spy agency Mossad organized the new attack on Natanz, according to Western sources who now claim it was a cyber attack.
The Mossad was also responsible for earlier attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities and last year assassinated Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the father of Iran’s nuclear program and one of the most influential Iranian nuclear scientists. The Israeli spy agency stole a large part of Iran’s nuclear archive in January 2018.
Iran now defiantly announced that it will begin enriching uranium to an unprecedented 60 percent level. Fissile material must reach 90 percent purity to enable Iran to produce its first nuclear weapon.
The Biden Administration, meanwhile, reacted to the Iranian announcement by saying it was concerned over Iran’s “provocative” actions.