Iranian atomic agency claims to have foiled attack on facility

Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency said on Wednesday that an attack on one of its facilities early in the morning was foiled, with no casualties or structural damage at the site.

The agency’s statement did not disclose the name of the site, but the targeted building was one of Iran’s main manufacturing centers for the production of the centrifuges used at the country’s two nuclear facilities, Fordow and Natanz, according to one. Iranian close to the attack and to a senior intelligence official.

The attack on the facility near the town of Karaj, on the outskirts of Tehran, was carried out by a small quadcopter drone, according to Iranian media and Iranian familiar with the attack.

Although no one claimed responsibility for the attack, the centrifuge factory, known as the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company, or TESA, was on a list of targets that Israel presented to the Trump administration at the start of Last year. The Israeli government has not commented on Wednesday’s attack.

The drone appeared to have taken off from inside Iran, from a location not far from the site, and struck the structure, the person close to the attack said. The person did not know what damage, if any, had caused.

If the attack were foiled, it would be a welcome victory for Iranian intelligence and security agencies, which have been accused of failing to end a series of attacks over the past year, including two acts of sabotage of the Natanz nuclear facility and the assassination of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

The centrifuge production facility was on a list that Israel presented in early 2020 to President Donald J. Trump and senior administration officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and director Gina Haspel. of the CIA, as potential targets of attacks, part of the wide-scale campaign against Iran’s nuclear program, according to the senior intelligence official.

Among the targets presented at the time, according to the senior intelligence official, were attacks on the Natanz uranium enrichment site and the assassination of Mr. Fakhrizadeh. Israel assassinated Mr. Fakhrizadeh in November and struck the Natanz factory the following April, damaging a large number of centrifuges.

According to the intelligence official, the campaign against Iran’s nuclear program was carried out with the knowledge and blessing of the Trump administration.

While it is still too early to determine whether damage was inflicted on the centrifuge manufacturing plant on Wednesday, it is easy to assess why it would be a prime target for anyone seeking to undermine Iran’s nuclear program.

Hundreds and possibly more centrifuges were taken out of service in the April attack on Natanz, and the plant targeted on Wednesday was tasked with replacing those that had been destroyed.

In addition, the plant also produces the most advanced and modern Iranian centrifuges, which can enrich more uranium in less time. And Iran’s ability to develop, manufacture, assemble and operate such centrifuges, which dramatically shorten the time required to enrich enough for a bomb, is one of the focal points of the negotiations in Vienna on the future. of the 2015 nuclear agreement.

Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency said details of Wednesday’s attack were under investigation.

“In view of the precautions taken to protect the sites belonging to the atomic nuclear agency, the attack this morning was foiled before it could damage the building,” the statement said. The agency praised the security and intelligence forces for their prevention of threats “aimed at attacking Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities.”

Iran’s aviation agency on Wednesday announced a new law requiring all civilian drones, regardless of size and purpose, to be registered on a government website within six months. Registered drones would be issued licenses.

Wednesday’s drone attack bears similarities to that carried out against a Hezbollah facility in Beirut in August 2019, which destroyed what Israeli officials described as vital machines for Hezbollah’s precision missile production efforts.

During this attack, tiny armed drones took off from the coastal area of ​​Beirut and crashed into the facility. The agents behind the attack, who Hezbollah officials identified as Israelis, retreated to a submarine that picked them up.

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