NUCLEAR, BIOLOGICAL AND CHEMICAL WEAPONS
March 15, 2022: The Iranian response to Israeli attacks on their two underground nuclear fuel production sites at Natanz and Fordow is to build the new Kuh-e Kolang Gaz La underground facility near the Natanz site. The new operation is 1,600 meters underground, 50 percent deeper than Natanz or Fordow. The space available inside Kuh-e Kolang Gaz La will be about 50 percent less than the two current underground sites and Iran is installing more efficient centrifuges to match current Natanz/Fordow production while occupying less space. The new facility may be more difficult to disable with an airstrike, but the last two attacks were carried out using malware or bombs planted by Israeli Mossad operatives, with the assistance of Iranians opposed to the current Iranian religious dictatorship and its obsession with creating nuclear weapons.
Iran continues to work on nuclear weapons. In 2021 the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) reported activity at the Iranian Natanz underground nuclear fuel enrichment facility. Israel had smuggled a large bomb into Natanz and detonated it on April 11th. The IAEA reported on Natanz enriched uranium production 54 days before the April explosion and 40 days after it. Iran initially called the explosion an accident. Within a week Iran admitted the explosion was an attack that did major damage to their new high-performance nuclear enrichment (turning uranium into weapons grade material) equipment. IAEA inspectors were allowed to view the damage and the recent IAEA report provides details of Natanz operations before and after the April explosion. IAEA found that between February and May 2021 Iran enriched 335.7 kg (738.5 pounds) of uranium ore to five percent of Uranium 235. Unenriched uranium ore is only about .7 percent U-235. Uranium enrichment is a process that increases the content of Uranium 235 in uranium ore sufficiently so that it can be used as power plant fuel or for a nuclear weapon. For a power plant 5-10 percent enrichment is needed. Anything over 20 percent enriched can be used for a nuclear bomb. The most effective and reliable nuclear weapons use 80-90 percent enriched nuclear material. Natanz was producing 107 kg of five percent enriched uranium a month until the explosion, after which production fell to zero. Iran had threatened to enrich some uranium to 60 percent, Previously the highest Iran had gone was 20 percent. IAEA believes Iran had only produced 2.4 kg of 60 percent enriched uranium so far. A nuclear weapon would require at least 40 kg of 60 percent enriched uranium.
Soon after the April explosion Iran was hard at work repairing the damage at Natanz, their most modern and productive enrichment facility. The other enrichment facility is at Fordow and is also underground. Together these two facilities operate 5,060 centrifuges and Iran has another 13,000 centrifuges in storage to replace those that wear out or are lost to accidents, deliberate sabotage or attacks.
The April 2021 attack on Natanz caused massive equipment failure and damage on a scale similar to the 2010 attack carried out with software designed to get into the heavily guarded Natanz compound, and the computer-controlled equipment there. Later analysis indicated that the deep-underground (about 50 meters, or 155 feet) plant was effectively destroyed by the 2021 explosion. The target was its thousands of centrifuges. Israeli hackers got to the centrifuges in 2010 via a computer worm hack called Stuxnet. A worm is malware (hacker software) that gets into target systems via stealth and physical media like USB thumb drives. Stuxnet was released four or five years before it got to Natanz, apparently via a USB drive containing the normally invisible (to most users) malware. Once that USB drive is used on any local or Internet network connected computer, Stuxnet automatically copies itself onto all computers connected to the network. On each computer, especially industrial microprocessors that are used to control equipment, Stuxnet checked for centrifuge control software unique to the Natanz facility. When finally found in 2010, Stuxnet proceeded to modify the centrifuge control software to mimic known types of equipment failure and did so gradually. By the time the Natanz system operators discovered something was very, very wrong, thousands of their expensive new centrifuges were damaged so badly that they had to be replaced. The 2021 attack on Natanz used a different approach, because the Iranians had spent a lot of time, effort and money to prevent another Stuxnet attack.
The 2021 attack required several years of preparation. The Israelis first got the technical details of the Natanz electrical system as well as details of the new generation of centrifuges Iran installed there. The Israeli plan used explosives detonated where it would shut down the primary and back-up power systems when the maximum number of new centrifuges were powered up and vulnerable to severe damage if these systems failed simultaneously. This worked as intended and Natanz again suffered major centrifuge loss that took months to get back into production again and over a year to completely fix.
Needed security upgrades are uncertain until Iran can find out more about exactly how the attack was carried out. They knew a lot of explosives had been involved but were unsure of how the attacker figured out how and where to place them without being discovered. To aid in solving that mystery Iran went public with details, and the name of a suspected key operative. Iran is looking for Reza Karimi, a 43-year-old Iranian who left the country several days before the attack. There were other Iranians involved as well as the suspected Israel Mossad agents who came to Iran and worked with a growing number of Iranians seeking to overthrow their current religious dictatorship. The Iranians have been seeking more of these “Mossad Iranians” since a 2018 Mossad operation in the capital when a heavily protected warehouse containing top-secret documents was covertly entered, half a ton of documents on the Iranian nuclear program were removed and 24 hours later showed up in Israel. Until 2021 Iran denied this Mossad operation took place and that the documents were real. Since 2018 Israel has allowed foreign intel and nuclear program experts to examine the documents and that led to international acceptance of the documents as authentic.
There were no casualties at Natanz because of the bomb, which was a deliberate part of the attack plan. As a result, many Iranians supported the attack and the Iranians living outside their homeland openly expressed their hostile attitude towards the Iranian nuclear program.
The two attacks on Natanz were very damaging to Iranian claims that they do not have a nuclear weapons program. In the aftermath of both attacks it became clear that Iran was using powerful new centrifuge designs to create nuclear material that was far more refined (above 20 percent) than needed for a nuclear power plant. Iran needs a lot of nuclear material refined to 90 percent to make nuclear weapons. The data Mossad made public in 2018 and the aftermath of the 2021 attack demonstrate that Iran is still seeking nuclear weapons.
This growing number of Mossad operations in Iran has led to public criticism, often by the senior clerics who actually rule the country. There has been more of this public criticism in Iran because the government has, for decades, devoted major resources to “destroying Israel.” That effort has consistently, and often spectacularly failed at great cost to Iran. This makes the religious dictatorship look incompetent because, these senior clerics always insisted, they were doing God’s Work. The 2021 Mossad attack made a lot more Iranians realize that the Mossad was apparently entrenched inside Iran and finding more Iranians willing to work with Mossad against projects many Iranians agreed were endangering and impoverishing Iran, and a major cause of the declining living standards and growing crackdowns by the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) and police. The IRGC knew that the Israelis had been successful at establishing a clandestine Mossad presence in Arab nations but thought Iranians were too sophisticated for that. That might have been the case for Iranians who trusted their government. That trust began to erode decades ago and even the IRGC, in one of its recent “actual public opinion” reports to the religious leadership, revealed that most Iranians now hated their government and many were also fed up with Islam. Which brings us to the present, as Iranian leaders realize that many Iranians are willingly and effectively working with the enemy.
Iran is trying to portray itself to foreigners as the innocent victim of Israeli aggression. Iranians insist that Natanz was only producing enriched uranium suitable for power plant fuel. But recent IAEA reports describe evidence that Iran is seeking to develop a nuclear bomb and needs highly (to 90 percent purity) uranium for that. The foreigners are not as easy to deceive as before but more questions are being asked about Natanz. Inside Iran the “accidental” fire at Natanz in mid-2020, described as a construction accident, is now being revisited as details come out of how Mossad agents inside Natanz got 150 kg of explosives into the underground complex and managed to hide them, and their remote-control detonators, where they would not be found and would do maximum damage when detonated.
Even before this bold Israeli attack on Natanz, Iran was violating the IAEA inspection requirements for the 2015 treaty that lifted the Iranian economic sanctions. Since Natanz Iran has announced further restrictions on the IAEA and is demanding that full compliance with the 2015 treaty be restored before Iran will negotiate the restoration of the IAEA inspections. This is unacceptable to the United States, where a new government came to power in early 2021 and announced it was willing to rejoin the 2015 treaty that the previous government had suspended in 2017 because Iran was cheating on the nuclear weapons restrictions of the 2015 treaty. Those accusations proved to be true and Iran is not changing its negotiating tactics.
The threatened Israeli airstrikes never had the underground enrichment facilities as a primary target. An Israeli airstrike would go after targets on the surface that are also vital to the nuclear weapons or ballistic missile program. What bothers Iran is that Israel probably knows a lot more about those other targets and to what extent their destruction would cripple the Iranian nuclear and ballistic missile programs. This is a more worrisome Israeli threat, especially their ability to do what Iranian leaders believed unlikely or impossible.