Iranian investigators have determined the cause of a fire at the Natanz nuclear plant, said a spokesman for Iran’s highest security agency on Friday, while they declined to immediately release details of the findings for “security reasons.”
The National Security Council’s statement came when Gholamreza Jalali, the head of Iran’s civil defense, told state television that Tehran would retaliate against all countries that carry out cyber attacks on its nuclear sites.
The Reuters News Agency, which quoted three Iranian officials, said that the fire at Natanz, which occurred early Thursday, was caused by cyber sabotage.
But Reuters said officials did not offer evidence to support the claim.
Iran’s nuclear energy organization initially reported that an “incident” had occurred early Thursday in Natanz, located in the desert in central Isfahan province. Later, it published a photo of a one-story brick building with roofs and walls partially burned.
A door that hung from its hinges indicated that there had been an explosion inside the building.
The IAEA said none of its inspectors were at Natanz during the fire and “that the site of the incident did not contain any nuclear substances”.
“Cheetah’s of Homeland”
Keyvan Khosravi, spokesman for the National Security Council, told the IRNA News Agency late Friday that experts have “determined the main cause of the incident” but it “will be explained in its time for security reasons”.
The mystery surrounding the incident was deepened after the BBC reported that an unknown group called “Cheetah’s of the Homeland” claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement sent to the network’s Persian service journalists before the news of the fire went public.
A video claimed that the group included “soldiers from the heart of the regime’s security organizations” who wanted to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Iran has long maintained its nuclear program for peaceful purposes.
At the same time, Iranian media has suspected the US and Israel of the incident.
In an article published on Thursday, the IRNA addressed what it called the possibility of sabotaging, even though it stopped prosecuting the United States or Israel directly.
“So far, Iran has been trying to prevent intensified crises and the formation of unpredictable conditions and situations,” IRNA said. “But the crossing of the red lines of the Islamic Republic of Iran by hostile countries, especially the Zionist regime and the United States, means that the strategy … should be revised.”
In 2010, the Stuxnet computer virus, believed to be developed by the US and Israel, was discovered after it was used to attack the Natanz plant.
Later on Thursday, Jalali told state TV that “if it is proven that our country has been targeted for a cyber attack, we will respond”.
Natanz is the centerpiece of Iran’s enrichment program, which Tehran says is for peaceful purposes only. Western intelligence agencies and the IAEA believe it had a coordinated, secret nuclear weapons program that it was stopped in 2003.
Tehran ever refuses to seek nuclear weapons.
Iran triggers the nuclear agreement dispute mechanism
Iran limited its nuclear work in exchange for removing most global sanctions under an agreement reached with six world powers in 2015, but has diminished compliance with the agreement since US President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018.
This year, the IAEA has also issued two reports condemning Iran for not responding to nuclear activity questions before the 2015 agreement in three places and for denying it access to two of them.
According to Reuters, the United Kingdom, France and Germany submitted a motion for a resolution to the IAEA on June 10, calling on Iran to grant access to the designated sites.
The three European countries believe that the Nuclear Power Agreement is a cornerstone of regional and global security and has struggled to keep it alive since the US moved. They have set up a parallel system to try to keep funds flowing into Iran when its economy was flagged.
Separately on Friday, IRNA reported that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif triggered a dispute settlement mechanism in the 2015 agreement, blaming the move against Germany, France and Britain’s “non-compliance” to their side of the deal, as well as a European push to punish Iran at the IAEA the refusal to grant access to inspectors at their nuclear sites.
The dispute mechanism provides for a period of about one month, which can be extended if all parties agree to resolve any disagreement.
Failure to agree can lead to snapback on UN sanctions against Iran.
On January 15, the Europeans themselves triggered the agreement’s dispute settlement mechanism to force Iran into discussions about possible violations of the agreement, as Tehran seemed to recall and refused to be bound by its uranium enrichment limits.
They later canceled the action.