Iran nuclear base blitzed by deadly sabotage

Underground: Thousands of centrifuges are hidden in Natanz’s subterranean bunkers. © PA

Does Israel have the world’s best secret service? An explosion in Iran has caused major damage to the country’s nuclear programme – and few people doubt that Mossad agents were responsible.

At first, Iranian officials played down Thursday’s incident at the Natanz nuclear facility. It was just a fire in a shed, they said: nobody was hurt, no significant damage was done.

But video footage showing a building with its roof blown off and a door blasted from its hinges told a different story. And then came a more plausible explanation: someone had smuggled a bomb into the building.

Responsibility has been claimed by a dissident Iranian group called “Cheetahs of the Homeland”. But experts think it far more likely to be the work of Israel’s secret service, Mossad.

Natanz, with laboratories built 25-feet underground to withstand air attacks, is Iran’s centre for enriching uranium. And no country has more to fear from that than Israel.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, has described Israel as “a cancerous tumour” that should be removed from the region. Iran even issued a stamp commemorating an Egyptian soldier who murdered seven Israeli tourists.

In recent years, Israel has carried out a series of covert attacks on Iran’s nuclear programme. Several leading scientists have been assassinated.

In 2018, Mossad agents broke into a warehouse in Tehran and stole half a tonne of secret documents revealing the whereabouts of secret equipment and nuclear material.

Does Israel have the world’s best secret service?

Mossad bosses it

Some say, yes, Mossad has a record of successes second to none. It is also completely ruthless. As Israel’s foreign minister, Gabi Ashkenazi, said on Sunday, “We take actions that are better left unsaid.”

Others argue that there are equally effective secret services elsewhere. And some Mossad operations have gone badly wrong. Six agents were arrested in Norway after killing a Moroccan waiter they mistook for a Black September leader.

You Decide

  1. What characteristics are most important for a spy?

Activities

  1. Design a stamp commemorating a spy.

Some People Say...

“It’s easy to forget what intelligence consists of: luck and speculation. Here and there, a windfall; here and there, a scoop.”

John le Carré, British novelist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that Iran’s nuclear programme has accelerated since America’s withdrawal from a 2015 deal – also signed by the EU, Britain, Russia, China, France, and Germany – which promised Iran relief from crippling trade sanctions. In return, Iran said it would enrich uranium only enough to fuel nuclear power plants, and not to the high level needed for weapons. The damaged building is believed to be a workshop for assembling centrifuges (a piece of equipment that spins an object at high speed), which are vital to the enrichment process.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate is around several other recent incidents, which could have been acts of deliberate destruction by Mossad. Six days earlier, there was an explosion at a missile factory near Tehran. Since the Natanz attack, there have been explosions at two power plants in Iran, and a leak of chlorine gas at a chemical plant. Though the Iranian government has described all of these as accidents, many suspect Israeli involvement.

Word Watch

Plausible
Acceptable or believable.
Dissident
A person who opposes official policy, especially that of an authoritarian state.
Mossad
The Hebrew word for “institute”. Its full name is the Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations, and its motto is a quote from the Bible: “For by wise guidance you can wage your war.”
Uranium
A very heavy, silvery-grey metal that is naturally radioactive.
Ayatollah
A title given to senior clergymen in Iran. Ayatollah Khameini’s predecessor as Supreme Leader was Ayatollah Khomeini.
Covert
Secret; hidden.

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