Here’s the latest analysis from ISIS, the Institute for Science and International Security, on the “fire” at Iran’s uranium enrichment facility at Natanz. It was an explosion, probably due to a vehicle filled with high-grade explosives.
I wonder if the driver escaped; he may have set off the explosion himself, resulting in his own death. And this type of attack is more likely from a local group. Western intelligence personnel do not do suicide attacks. Remote detonation is less reliable and might have been beyond the technical capability of the group doing the attack. The attack may have been by an Iranian opposition group. A group calling itself “Homeland Cheetahs” took responsibility for the attack.
But Iran’s state news agency Irna suggested the attack could have been by Israel and the U.S. This was one of several attacks on Iran in recent weeks:
“26 June: Blast at a liquid fuel production facility for ballistic missiles in Khojir, close to Parchin, near Tehran; fire at power plant in Shiraz, causing a blackout
30 June: Explosion at a medical clinic in Tehran, 19 people killed
2 July: Blast and fire at Natanz nuclear site
3 July: Large fire in Shiraz
4 July: Explosion and fire in power plant in Ahwaz; chlorine gas leak at Karoun petrochemical plant in Mahshahr” [BBC]
The explosion at a medical clinic is unusual, as Western intelligence agencies do not usually (or ever?) target medical sites. The attack may have been from an Iranian opposition group, targeting individuals injured in the earlier blast near Tehran. This would require specific knowledge of who survived the blast and where they were receiving medical care, which could be obtained by hacking into a medical database.
The whole series of attacks suggests Israeli intelligence working with a local Iranian opposition group. The Israelis might be willing to help a local group target a medical facility, as long as they were not the direct perpetrators. Local persons would be needed to carryout so many attack successively throughout Iran.
The BBC article suggests that the attacks were retaliation for an exchange of hacking attacks, but this is unlikely. You don’t escalate from hacking to explosions, fires, and loss of life unless you are willing to invite a counter attack on the same level. So it seems like the Israelis were simply aiding a local operation.
This article is speculative, and based only on publicly available sources of information.
I should add that I continue to hold the opinion that Iran possesses working nuclear bombs. These types of attacks on Iran are unwise, and attacking a medical facility, regardless of the reason, is gravely immoral.
I’ll add some further thoughts about this attack on Natanz. The location of the bomb was clearly chosen not only to destroy the advanced centrifuge program, but also to avoid damage to a location that is actively enriching uranium. An explosion there would release radioactive material. The explosion occurred at about 2 am, so that there would be little or no loss of life. These are factors that an intelligence agency would take into consideration, not a local group.
The name of the local group may be fake: Cheetahs of the Homeland. But it was not a name invented by anyone in U.S. intelligence, as “Homeland” makes one think of the U.S. Homeland Security, thereby connecting the group to the U.S. so the name may have been chosen by local persons cooperating with Israeli intelligence. Or it may be a real group that was involved in some way.
As I already said, the attack on the medical clinic means that U.S. intelligence was not closely involved. So does the choice of the name “Cheetahs of the Homeland”. So this seems to be Israeli intelligence acting without U.S. intelligence, and perhaps in contradiction to U.S. wishes.
As this seems to be an Israeli operation, going it alone, without the U.S., the impetus for the operation may have come from Netanyahu. He has power right now, but it is precarious, so he has to strike while he is able. Iran was very aggressive last summer, and now is in a weakened state, due to the virus. So the timing is determined by those circumstances.
But if Iran has working nuclear bombs, this type of provocation is particularly unwise.