The latest events in Iran, in particular the explosion at the nuclear facility in Natanz on Thursday, represent a significant rise in tensions in the region, even if the various countries are still preoccupied with the coronavirus pandemic and its consequences.
Figures in Iran have already blamed Israel for the explosion, saying it may have been caused by a cyberattack. If that is so, according to past reports of exchanges between the two sides, it would suggest that Iran will try to respond, possibly with yet another cyberstrike of its own.
The chain of incidents in Iran began in the middle of last week, with an explosion at a weapons development facility in Parchin. It was followed by an explosion at a site in Tehran that was described as a hospital, and that resulted in casualties. The Natanz explosion came later, and on Saturday a fire was reported at a power station in the southern Iranian region of Ahvzaz, close to the Iraqi border.
The temptation to draw a connection among all of these incidents is great, but it’s not clear that all were the result of planned attacks or that all were planned by the same entity. The power station, for one, is very far from the other sites, and it’s not known to be connected to any Iranian military program. It was only regarding the Natanz incident that Iranian officials, speaking to reporters from Reuters, pointed the finger at Israel.
The underground facility that was damaged in Natanz is at the heart of the debate on Iranian violations of the nuclear agreement. It’s where the newer, faster centrifuges that accelerate the rate of uranium enrichment are assembled. The agreement that the Obama administration championed, which was signed in 2015, left Iran with an estimated “breakout time” to the creation of a nuclear bomb of about one year.
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