The last time the centrifuges crashed at Iran’s underground nuclear fuel-production center at Natanz, more than a decade ago, the sabotage was the result of a joint Israeli-American cyberattack intended to slow Tehran’s progress toward nuclear weapons and force a diplomatic negotiation. When they crashed again this weekend, the White House asserted that the United States had no involvement. The operation raised the question of whether Israel was acting on its own to strike Iran and undermine American diplomacy as the Biden administration seeks to reconstitute a nuclear agreement.
U.S. negotiators prepared to resume indirect talks with Iran this week in hopes that an attack on a key Iranian nuclear facility, widely attributed to Israel, would not derail the nascent effort at diplomacy. Biden administration officials were quick to say the United States had nothing to do with the weekend incident, which caused a blackout that damaged centrifuges at the Natanz facility. "The United States was not involved in any manner," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday, and the administration has not been "given any indication about a change" in Iranian participation in negotiations over reviving the 2015 nuclear agreement among world powers and Iran that began last week in Vienna.
The European Union has imposed sanctions on eight Iranian militia commanders and police chiefs, including the head of the elite Revolutionary Guards, over a deadly crackdown in November 2019, the bloc said in its Official Journal on Monday. The travel bans and asset freezes are the first EU sanctions on Iran for human rights abuses since 2013, as the bloc had shied away from angering Tehran in the hope of safeguarding a nuclear accord Tehran signed with world powers in 2015. Their preparation was first reported by Reuters last month.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran said on Monday it had identified the person who disrupted flow of power at the Natanz nuclear facility that led to electricity outage in the site, Iran’s Nournews website quoted intelligence sources as saying. “The person has been identified ... Necessary measures are being taken to arrest this person who caused the electricity outage in one of the halls at the Natanz site,” the website reported. It gave no details about the person.
South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun arrived in Iran on Sunday to help try to restore a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and free up $7 billion in Iranian funds trapped in South Korea, Seoul officials said. Chung is the first South Korean prime minister to visit Iran in 44 years amid icy relations between the two countries due to Iran’s military cooperation with North Korea. Tension rose after Iran seized a South Korean ship and its sailors in the Strait of Hormuz in January, accusing them of polluting the waters, and demanded South Korea release $7 billion in assets frozen in South Korean banks under U.S. sanctions.
The cyber-attack on the heavily guarded Natanz plant in Iran will set back Tehran’s nuclear programme by nine months, US intelligence sources have claimed. Iran’s foreign ministry has blamed Israel for sabotaging Iran’s main uranium enrichment facility, and although Israel has not formally confirmed responsibility its officials have done little to dispel the notion. US intelligence sources told the New York Times Saturday’s attack led to an explosion that destroyed the independently protected power supply to advanced centrifuges that create enriched uranium, and that it could take at least nine months to restore production.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
A lawyer for Halkbank told a U.S. appeals court on Monday that the state-owned Turkish lender was immune from U.S. prosecution and that an indictment accusing it of helping Iran evade American sanctions should be thrown out. In arguments before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, Halkbank’s lawyer Simon Latcovich said the U.S. government had no basis to assert criminal jurisdiction over the bank, and that the bank was “synonymous” with Turkey for purposes of immunity.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Thanks to a rare glimpse inside the Islamic Republic of Iran’s vast penal establishment in Tehran, Fox News has obtained exclusive information about Iranians condemned to harsh sentences for mere contact with Israelis, including, for one, a betrayal by Turkish intelligence — an alleged ally of the U.S. "A woman who was incarcerated in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison — where the regime keeps most of its political prisoners — was arrested leaving the Israeli embassy in Ankara by Turkish intelligence," a source told Fox News.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The White House on Monday denied having played any role in a power outage at an Iranian nuclear site and declined to comment on whether Israeli sabotage was to blame or whether the incident might impair efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. “The U.S. was not involved in any manner,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in response to questions. “We have nothing to add on speculation about the causes or the impacts.” Iran accused arch-foe Israel of sabotaging the Natanz uranium enrichment plant and vowed revenge for an attack that appeared to be latest episode in a long-running covert war.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Israeli spy agencies Mossad and Shin Bet have uncovered an attempt by the Iranians to lure Israeli men. According to a statement released Monday, Iranian intelligence has contacted dozens of Israeli men via fake Instagram accounts, drawing them to meet women all over the world hoping to kidnap them. According to security sources, one meeting was foiled at the last minute after the person already left Israel to meet the alleged woman. Israeli security forces had warned him just before he was set off to the meeting.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
For hardliners in Iran, the June 18 presidential election is less about choosing a new executive branch chief than about consolidating power centers before the time comes to choose Iran’s real ruler: the next Supreme Leader. The backing of such power centers is essential to ensure a speedy and smooth transition after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s death. In 2016, it was disclosed that the Assembly of Experts, an elected body of clerics charged with supervising and choosing the Supreme Leader, had created a committee to shortlist qualified nominees.
The cleric Ebrahim Raisi has continued to rise up the ranks of Iran’s political and bureaucratic machinery despite suffering a heavy electoral defeat in 2017 as the conservative choice for president. Tipped by some to succeed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as supreme leader, the 60 year old with decades of service is seen as a loyalist and powerful fixer behind the scenes. But talk has cooled of him emerging as the senior leader after he won only 38 per cent of the vote in 2017 and failed to prevent the re-election of President Hassan Rouhani.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is in Israel Monday, meeting with Israeli officials about Iran. The meeting comes as a power failure at the Iranian nuclear site of Natanz reportedly caused massive damage to Iranian centrifuges. Iranian officials blamed Israel and threatened to avenge the attack. Israel rarely takes responsibility for attacks like the one in Natanz that Israeli news reports on Monday said could set the Iranian nuclear program back by nine months. But the Israeli army Chief of Staff, Aviv Kochavi, hinted Israel may have been involved.
The long-running and undeclared shadow war between two of the Middle East's most implacable foes, Iran and Israel, appears to be heating up. Iran has blamed Israel for a mysterious explosion at the weekend that knocked out power at its uranium enrichment facility at Natanz. Israel has not publicly said it was behind what Iran calls "an act of sabotage" but US and Israeli media reports are quoting officials as saying it was carried out by Israel's overseas intelligence agency, Mossad. Iran has vowed to take revenge "at a time of its choosing".
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Iran’s regime has scored several relative successes in promoting its carefully crafted public image in the West by using narratives and rhetoric designed for Western audiences. In this messaging, Iran promotes itself as a positive asset for the region and the world and claims to be fighting terrorism, thereby assisting the Western powers’ anti-terror efforts. Iran’s politicians constantly issue statements and speeches promoting the regime’s supposed dedication to fighting terrorism in Iraq and Syria, asserting that this prevents the (solely Sunni) terrorist groups from spilling over into European capitals.