Iranian nuclear program suffers major setback after suspected Israeli cyberattack

Iranian nuclear program suffers major setback after suspected Israeli cyberattack
AP Photo/Florian Schroetter
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Israel’s reported cyberattack against Iran's Natanz nuclear facility has reportedly crippled Iran’s uranium enrichment program and set back the country’s nuclear weapons ambitions.

On Sunday, the Times of Israel reported that unidentified sources had informed Israeli news outlets that the Mossad security service was responsible for the strike. 

The Associated Press points out in its own reporting that news organizations in Israel “nearly uniformly reported a devastating cyberattack orchestrated by the country caused the blackout,” prompting an understanding that the reports are accurate. A local media station claims the attack caused “severe damage at the heart of Iran’s enrichment program.”

The cyberattack comes just a day after Iranian government officials bragged about the country’s development of new nuclear centrifuges. The program was designed to expedite the process required to develop nuclear weapons. Iranian officials declared the cyberattack an act of “nuclear terrorism.”

According to Iran, its latest IR-9 centrifuge can potentially enrich uranium 50 times faster than its previous first-generation IR-1 centrifuges. Under the 2015 nuclear deal, the country is limited to only using IR-1s for enrichment. 

Details of the cyberattack first surfaced when the Natanz facility suffered a mysterious total power outage just one day after it started development on its advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges. 

“In the early hours of Sunday morning, the underground Natanz facility suffered an electrical disruption in what was widely speculated to be an Israeli cyberattack,” the Times of Israel reported. “The disruption at Natanz appears to have been designed to counter Iran’s efforts to raise pressure on the United States by amassing greater quantities of uranium and enriching it to higher levels as the two sides negotiate a return to the 2015 nuclear deal.”

The outage comes only days after U.S. and Iranian delegations arrived in Vienna, Austria, to participate in indirect talks about Iran's return to compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal. 

Former President Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran deal in 2018 due to legitimate concerns that Iran was not fulfilling its end of the bargain, despite promises it made to former President Barack Obama who reportedly sent Iran billions of dollars in payment in exchange for cooperation. Iran breached the deal by exceeding its stockpile of uranium and going over enrichment limits. 

The cyberattack follows public warnings from Israeli officials who said that Israel would take military action against Iran if the United States eased sanctions against Iran or rejoined the Iran nuclear deal. 

Amos Yadlin, the former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief of military intelligence, said that if the cyberattack destroyed the Natanz facility’s backup power systems, it could take Iran months to recover.

“But if somebody really hit all 6,000 centrifuges — old and new — that’s an extraordinary achievement,” said Yadlin. His remarks were echoed by Israeli media reports that stated that U.S. officials expressed satisfaction with the attack.

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