Last Sunday, an explosion shook the Isfahan power plant, Iran’s second city, but without serious damage. On Wednesday, July 15, seven ships were caught in the flames at a shipyard in Bushehr, southern Iran; On Monday the 13th, six gas tanks burned northeast of the city of Mashad; On Sunday the 12th, a petrochemical facility in the southwest of the same city was burned; On Saturday the 11th, several gas cylinders exploded in the basements of a large residential building in Tehran; on July 2, part of a uranium enrichment plant in Natanz blew up; on June 30, an explosion at the Sina At’har medical center (Tehran) caused 13 deaths; On June 26, the Khojir Ballistic Missile Factory was partially destroyed.
This string of fires and explosions has not been claimed by opposition groups known to the Iranian regime. They have first been announced by the Tehran authorities themselves and their media. Sometimes they have been presented as mere accidents and, in other cases, they have reported that the causes were being investigated. The images obtained by the satellites leave no doubt about the devastation they have caused.
The most serious of all is, for Tehran, that of the Iranian Atomic Energy Agency plant in Natanz, the nuclear program launched by the Ayatollah regime. Everything indicates that it was a sabotage, although it is not clear how it was caused.
Suspicions of Israel
Who perpetrated it? Israel has a long tradition of using force to prevent its neighbours from equipping themselves with the nuclear weapon that the Hebrew state possesses. It began bombing the Iraqi nuclear reactor in Osirak in 1981; in 2007, it did the same with the Syrian of Al-Kibar—in 2018, and disclosed the video of that attack; in 2009 they launched, in coordination with the US, the Stuxnet Trojan, which seized Iranian centrifuges and ordered them to self-destruct; between 2010 and 2012, four Iranian scientists linked to the nuclear program were killed.
As usual, the Israeli authorities do not confirm or deny that their country has returned to the streets. “Israel is acting to curb the Iranian nuclear threat, but on that action better to say nothing,” said Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi about Natanz. “Israel will do everything it can to prevent Iran from accessing the nuclear weapon,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said. “We are not behind any incident that happens in Iran,” he said afterwards.
More explicit was the Middle East intelligence official who revealed to The New York Times that Israel had planted a powerful bomb in the Natanz building where Iran had reactivated the advanced centrifuge. The official in question is, according to some Israeli newspapers, none other than Yossi Cohen, director of Mossad, Israel’s foreign secret service. Thus, he discarded the hypothesis that the explosion had been the result of a cyber attack.
It would not be the first time that Mossad men set foot on Iranian soil to strike a blow at their enemy. In January 2017, they entered a Tehran building to which the Iranian nuclear archive had been transferred a year earlier. They seized about 100,000 documents that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released two years ago. According to him, they demonstrate Iran’s subterfuges to conceal in the eyes of United Nations agencies and the international community the development of its military nuclear program.
Unknown Cheetahs from the Homeland claimed responsibility for the Natanz blast, in a message sent to the BBC’s Farsi language service hours before Tehran released it. The mysterious group would consist of the military and members of the Iranian security forces who would have opted for armed dissent. It is possible that it does not exist and that by making a statement an attempt is made to sow even more unrest in the Iranian leadership.
Tehran does not rule out that in Natanz there has been sabotaged by “hostile countries, especially the Zionist regime and the US,” acknowledged the official IRNA press agency. “If a regime or government is involved in the Natanz incident, Iran will react firmly,” warned Seyed Abbas Mousavi, a spokesman for Iranian diplomacy. Esmail Ghaani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, even predicted that “difficult days” were coming for Israel and the United States.
His predecessor in office, General Qasem Soleimani, was killed in January by American drones near the Baghdad airport. The “harsh revenge” that the Iranian supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, announced then was reduced to the firing of some missiles on Iraqi bases that were hosting the US military, among which there was not one dead.
There is probably no unanimity in Tehran on how to react, but even so, the retaliation seems to be practically ruled out for now. They would take great risks to a country already almost exhausted due to the pandemic, the economic crisis caused by the drop in the price of hydrocarbons and the US sanctions reinstated by Donald Trump.
Perhaps the first response was to announce, in the second half of July, the successful execution of two spies of Iranian nationality who, according to Tehran, worked for the US CIA and for the Israeli Mossad. They had been incarcerated for at least two years, but it was just now the time chosen to hang them. The wife of one of them was also sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Trump’s last months?
Although not all the incidents in Iran are its doing, Israel is taking advantage of what, if not re-elected, will be the last months of Donald Trump’s presidency to shake up its only true enemy today in the Middle East. It started in May with retaliation that consisted of a cyber attack against the computer system of the great Iranian port of Shahid Rajae, through which the bulk of its foreign trade transits, and has now continued with the bombings of Natanz, from the Khojir missile factory and perhaps some more.
This is, broadly speaking, the analysis that a good part of the European foreign ministries makes of the prevailing tension between Israel and Iran. Trump has been the most pro-Israeli president in US history. He even broke, in May 2018, the nuclear agreement with Iran that his predecessor, Barack Obama, had so painstakingly forged and that so displeased the Hebrew State. It stipulated that Tehran renounced the atomic bomb in exchange for lifting the sanctions that strangled its economy.
If Democrat Joe Biden wins the November presidential election, he is likely to try to resuscitate that agreement to which the European partners of the United States that also signed it (France, Germany and the United Kingdom) remain attached. To do so, the first thing you will need to do is curb the punishing momentum of your Israeli ally and protégé.