Explosives were used to completely destroy the internal power system at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility in an alleged Israel operation, two intelligence officials told The New York Times on Sunday night. The explosion caused severe damage to the site and it could take at least nine months to restore production at Natanz, according to the officials. The incident happened as the US and Iran are holding indirect negotiations in Vienna about a possible mutual return to the 2015 nuclear agreement.Jonathan Schanzer is senior vice president for research at Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a nonprofit think tank, who told The Jerusalem Post that “this rather dramatic and mysterious event will be seen as undermining diplomacy. But the reality is that it will actually give the US team leverage – if they want it.”
According to Schanzer, “Iran’s leverage has and always will be its threats to go nuclear. Right now, it appears that the regime is unable to defend its nuclear assets from getting knocked offline. Will US negotiators seize the moment? Let us see.”Ambassador Dennis Ross, a distinguished fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the Post that the incident in Natanz won’t change the Iranian desire to get sanctions lifted. “It may reduce the sense of urgency on the part of the Biden administration to restore the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) lest the Iranian break-out time continues to be reduced,” said Ross. “Thus, the disruption of the Iranian effort to produce and install more advanced centrifuges reduces the pressure Iran is able to create in the negotiations.”“That said, the mediation in Vienna that the British, French, Germans, Chinese, and Russians are conducting between the Iranians and the US is not going to stop. I suspect we will see the JCPOA resumed at some point this year.”Kaleigh Thomas, associate fellow for the Middle East Security Program at CNAS noted that “even prior to the incident in Natanz, the political feasibility and expedient return to the JCPOA was already in doubt in Tehran. This incident likely will serve to increase Iranian skepticism that the United States is in Vienna to negotiate in good faith.”Mike Pregent, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told the Post that the US’s allies in the region are worried that the administration would cede its leverage and agree to sanction lifting. “Everything is set to begin expiring in 2023 beginning with constraints lifted on ballistic missiles followed by sunsets on centrifuges and uranium production beginning in 2024 – now is the time to renegotiate from a position of strength,” he said.
Therefore, Pregent continued, America’s allies are “stepping up their actions to keep Iran from moving to a bomb.”“The cyberattack on Natanz is an example of that,” he said. “Iran is vulnerable to attack and its economy is weak – this is not the time to give the regime an economic lifeline and isolate US allies in the region by locking them out of JCPOA talks.”“Our allies in the region know the regime the best – they don’t like what they are hearing from the Biden administration and are demonstrating their willingness to act independently for their own national security concerns,” explained Pregent.