Tag Archives: Reenter

Iran blames Israel for sabotage at Natanz site as U.S. begins talks to re-enter nuclear deal

Iran blamed Israel on Monday for a sabotage attack on its underground Natanz nuclear facility that damaged its centrifuges, an assault that imperils ongoing talks over its tattered nuclear deal and brings a shadow war between the two countries into the light.

Israel has not claimed responsibility for the attack. It rarely does for operations carried out by its secret military units or its Mossad intelligence agency. However, Israeli media widely reported that the country had orchestrated a devastating cyberattack that caused a blackout at the nuclear facility. Meanwhile, a former Iranian official said the attack set off a fire.

The attack further strains relations between the United States, which under President Joe Biden is now negotiating in Vienna to re-enter the nuclear accord, and Israel, whose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to stop the deal at all costs. Netanyahu met Monday with U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, whose arrival in Israel coincided with the first word of the attack.

At a news conference at Israel’s Nevatim air base Monday, where he viewed Israeli air and missile defence systems and its F-35 combat aircraft, Austin declined to say whether the Natanz attack could impede the Biden administration’s efforts to re-engage with Iran in its nuclear program.

“Those efforts will continue,” Austin said. The previous American administration under Donald Trump had pulled out of the nuclear deal with world powers, leading Iran to begin abandoning its limits.

‘We will take revenge’

Details remained scarce about what happened early Sunday at the facility. The event was initially described only as a blackout in the electrical grid feeding its above-ground workshops and underground enrichment halls — but later Iranian officials began referring to it as an attack.

A former chief of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard said the attack had also set off a fire at the site and called for improvements in security. In a tweet, Gen. Mohsen Rezaei said that the second attack at Natanz in a year signalled “the seriousness of the infiltration phenomenon.” Rezaei did not say where he got his information.


This photo released Nov. 5, 2019, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran shows centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran/The Associated Press)

“The answer for Natanz is to take revenge against Israel,” Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said. “Israel will receive its answer through its own path.” He did not elaborate.

Khatibzadeh acknowledged that IR-1 centrifuges, the first-generation workhorse of Iran’s uranium enrichment, had been damaged in the attack, but did not elaborate. State television has yet to show images from the facility. However, the facility seemed to be in such disarray that, following the attack, a prominent nuclear spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi walking above ground at the site fell seven metres through an open ventilation shaft covered by aluminum debris, breaking both his legs and hurting his head.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned Natanz would be reconstructed with more advanced machines. That would allow Iran to more quickly enrich uranium, complicating the nuclear talks.

“The Zionists wanted to take revenge against the Iranian people for their success on the path of lifting sanctions,” Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency quoted Zarif as saying. “But we do not allow (it), and we will take revenge for this action against the Zionists.”

Previous target of sabotage

Officials launched an effort Monday to provide emergency power to Natanz, said Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s civilian nuclear program. He said enrichment had not stopped there, without elaborating.

The IAEA, the United Nations body that monitors Tehran’s atomic program, earlier said it was aware of media reports about the blackout at Natanz and had spoken with Iranian officials about it. The agency did not elaborate.

Natanz has been targeted by sabotage in the past. The Stuxnet computer virus, discovered in 2010 and widely believed to be a joint U.S.-Israeli creation, once disrupted and destroyed Iranian centrifuges there during an earlier period of Western fears about Tehran’s program.


This photo released July 2, 2020, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows a building after it was damaged by a fire at the Natanz facility. Authorities later described the mysterious explosion as sabotage. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran/The Associated Press)

In July, Natanz suffered a mysterious explosion at its advanced centrifuge assembly plant that authorities later described as sabotage. Iran now is rebuilding that facility deep inside a nearby mountain. Iran also blamed Israel for that, as well as the November killing of a scientist who began the country’s military nuclear program decades earlier.

Israel also has launched a series of airstrikes in neighbouring Syria targeting Iranian forces and their equipment. Israel also is suspected in an attack last week on an Iranian cargo ship that is said to serve as a floating base for Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard forces off the coast of Yemen.

Multiple Israeli media outlets reported Sunday that an Israeli cyberattack caused the blackout, but it remains unclear what actually happened there. Public broadcaster Kan said the Mossad was behind the attack. Channel 12 TV cited “experts” as estimating the attack shut down entire sections of the facility.

While the reports offered no sourcing for their information, Israeli media maintains a close relationship with the country’s military and intelligence agencies.

“It’s hard for me to believe it’s a coincidence,” Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies, said of the blackout. “If it’s not a coincidence, and that’s a big if, someone is trying to send a message that ‘we can limit Iran’s advance and we have red lines.'”

It also sends a message that Iran’s most sensitive nuclear site is penetrable, he said.

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China’s First Space Station Will Reenter the Atmosphere in About a Week

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China didn’t intend for the Tiangong-1 space station to last forever, but it also didn’t want the station to plummet into the atmosphere randomly. After China lost control of the aging space platform, scientists around the world set to work tracing its position to find out when and where it would reenter the atmosphere. We’ve got it narrowed down a little today. Dr Marco Langbroek, who has been watching Tiangong-1 closely, says it’ll come down in the next week or so.

The Chinese space agency launched Tiangong-1 in 2011 with the intention to conduct a series of short-term manned missions. It measures 34.1 feet (10.4 meters) in length and weighs over 18,753 pounds (8,506 kg). The primary goal was to test orbital rendezvous and docking technology that would be vital to future Chinese space missions. Manned missions went to Tiangong-1 in 2012 and 2013, with the latter setting a record for China’s longest manned space mission at 15 days. The record was later broken by the crew of Tiangong-2, who were on board for 30 days.

After that second mission to Tiangong-1, the module was set to sleep mode. China intended to track the station remotely for a few years to find out how certain components aged. However, ground control lost contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016. Since then, we’ve known it was destined to fall into the atmosphere and break apart. We just haven’t had a specific window. At first, scientists thought it would drop in 2017, and then the estimate was revised to early 2018.

Today, the best estimate we have on Tiangong-1’s inevitable demise is March 31, plus or minus three days. According to Langbroek a geomagnetic storm gave the station a small boost that delayed its breakup, but it’s still heading down.

So we know roughly when China’s first space station will crash, but we don’t yet know where. It’s very difficult to predict that until it’s inside the atmosphere and on fire. The way Tiangong-1 breaks apart as it encounters increasingly thick layers of atmosphere will determine where it ends up. On the plus side, the surface of Earth is 70 percent water, so it’s more likely to reenter over water. The module is also not very large or robust, so most of its components will likely burn up. If anything does reach the ground, it won’t be dangerous. The most you’re likely to get out of Tiangong-1’s demise is a cool fireball if you happen to be nearby. You probably won’t, though. 

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