Damage at Iran's Natanz nuclear facility
Damage at Iran's Natanz nuclear facilityReuters

At the end of May Iran was hit by a cyber attack that experts, including Israeli ones, ascribed to the Jewish State.

The cyberattack on the Shahid Rajaee shipping terminal in the port city of Bandar Abbas, close to the strategic narrow waterway the Straits of Hormuz, disrupted the computerized handling of containers in the port and caused traffic jams and made unloading and loading ships impossible for a few days.

Israeli and foreign experts said that the 8200 unit and its subdivision Urim SIGINT Base of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) was behind the attack which came in retaliation for a largely botched Iranian cyber attack on Israel’s water infrastructure.

That attempted Iranian attack occurred in late April and if it had succeeded, chlorine levels in Israel’s drinking water would have reached levels that could have killed hundreds if not thousands of Israelis.

Israeli officials said at the time that they didn’t expect this despicable attack even from Iran and the Israeli security cabinet later decided that Israel should launch a counter-attack to make clear to the regime in Tehran that Israel’s military has greater cyber abilities than Iran’s, although Israel has humanitarian standards..

Lotem Finkelstein, the Threat Intelligence Group Manager at Check Point Software Technologies and an expert on cyber-defense said at the time that the cyber attack on Bandar Abbas was Israel’s “warning shot” at Iran.

It appears that Finkelstein was right.

Last week, I reported about a new cyber attack on a secret Iranian facility in the Khojir region east of Tehran which destroyed a ballistic missile production facility.

Jonathan Schanzer, a former US treasury terror finance specialist, said that based on the information he had obtained, he believed Israel was behind that attack as well, while other experts confirmed it was indeed a cyber attack.

And it didn’t stop there.

Last week, a series of events took place in Iran that clearly indicated the presence of forces attempting to undermine the Islamist regime of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and sabotage Iran’s attempts to obtain nuclear weapons.

First, a fire and mysterious explosion occurred at a medical facility in Tehran. While this could have been the result of a work accident, videos published on social media showed a giant blaze at the Sina Athar Medical Clinic in Tehran followed by a huge explosion - which may have been an exploding gas tank, but also a blast at a local ammunition depot. Iran is known for using civil facilities to hide military equipment and ammunition.

The blast killed 19 people and wounded scores of others as local authorities did everything in their power to disperse spectators from the site of the incident, citing coronavirus infection risks.

Then on Friday, a new mysterious blast occurred in the Natanz uranium production facility where Iran is assembling its latest centrifuges capable of speeding up uranium enrichment. These could shorten the time Iran needs to reach break-out capacity to a nuclear weapon.

Israeli TV reported on Friday evening that the blast destroyed a laboratory where Iran was working on its new IR-8 and IR-9 centrifuges, capable of enriching uranium up to 50 times faster than its older centrifuges. A part of the design is based on technology that was stolen by a scientist from Pakistan who used to work at the Urenco nuclear research facility in the Netherlands.

“Those were centrifuges that were supposed to be installed underground at the Natanz facility; they were intended to replace the old centrifuges and produce much more enriched uranium, much more quickly,” military analyst Alon Ben-David, who works for TV Channel 13 in Israel, disclosed.

Three Iranian officials later told Reuters that they think the explosion was triggered by a new cyberattack and two of them pointed to Israel as the main culprit, but offered no concrete evidence.

A Kuwaiti paper cited an unnamed official who said he could confirm that the blast in Natanz was triggered by a cyber attack and claimed it had set back Iran’s nuclear program by at least two months.

The Kuwaiti daily Al-Jareeda also said it had information that the explosion in Khojir was, in fact, caused by an aerial bombardment carried out by Israel’s new ADIR F-35 stealth warplanes capable of covering long distances while avoiding detection by radar or air defenses.

The Kuwaiti source doesn’t have a reliable reputation, however, having published additional reports about alleged Israeli attacks that were difficult to verify.

When Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was asked about possible Israeli involvement in the cyberattack on Natanz’ centrifuge assembling plant, he replied: “I don’t address these issues.”

Amos Yadlin, now heading the Israeli think tank Institute for National Security Studies and former head of AMAN, the IDF’s intelligence division, tweeted that he now understood why Netanyahu had said that there were more important issues that couldn’t wait until the coronavirus crisis in Israel was under control and why the Israeli leader hadn’t yet begun to introduce Israeli sovereignty in parts of Judea and Samaria along with the Jordan Valley.

“According to foreign sources, it appears that the prime minister focused this week on Iran rather than (his plan for West Bank) annexation. This is the policy I’ve been recommending in the last few weeks.” Yadlin tweeted on Friday.

Netanyahu indeed had been busy with the Iranian issue last week when he met with Brian Hook, the American envoy for Iranian affairs, who made clear that the military option against Iran’s nuclear weapons program “remains on the table”.

Yadlin also warned about possible Iranian retaliation, based on what Iranian officials had said after the incident in Natanz.

“If Israel is accused by official sources, it means we need to be operationally prepared for the possibility of an Iranian reaction (through cyber, firing missiles from Syria or a terror attack (overseas),” Yadlin tweeted.

One of the Iranian officials who seemed to blame the cyber attack in Natanz on a foreign country was Gholamreza Jalali, head of Iran’s homeland security. Jalali told Iran’s state television that “if it is proven that our country has been targeted by a cyberattack, we will respond.”

The attack on Natanz was followed by another explosion in a power plant in the Az-Zarqan region in Ahwaz province of western Iran on Saturday. The blast disrupted the electricity supply in a large area of the country and may also be the result of a cyber attack, although Israel's alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz on Sunday said that not every incident in Iran could be related to Israel’s covert war against the Islamic Republic.