Israel and the United States are developing a shared strategy intended to take out senior generals in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps and carry out covert operations to hinder Iran’s nuclear program, senior officials familiar with the explosion at the centrifuge plant in Natanz told the New York Times on Friday.
After assessing that damage caused by the explosion at Natanz last Thursday, which some believe Israel was responsible for, two intelligence officials told the Times that the Iranian nuclear program has been set back for up to two years.
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According to experts, the new evolving strategy poses danger, as it may push Iran to advance its nuclear program using underground facilities, making it harder to monitor its development.
Officials familiar with the explosion at Natanz, the Times said, believe that an explosive device was planted at the underground facility, presumably close to a gas line. However, some experts have said that a cyberattack might have caused the blast. Official sources have even drawn resemblance between the explosion at Natanz and the complex Stuxnet cyberattack on Iranian nuclear facilities a decade ago.
The U.S. State Department’s special envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, said last month that “We have seen historically that timidity and weakness invites more Iranian aggression.”
Four fuel tankers are currently making their way from Iran to Venezuela, despite American sanctions, which could spark the next confrontation between Tehran and Washington. The United States said it would not let the tankers reach their destination.
Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said in a televised speech on Saturday that Iran is determined to develop its oil industry in spite of U.S. sanctions imposed on the country.
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"We will not surrender under any circumstances ... We have to increase our capacity so that when necessary with full strength we can enter the market and revive our market share," Zanganeh said.
The Times also said that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo maintains a close relationship with Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, making it unlikely that Pompeo was unaware of the plan to attack the Natanz nuclear facility – if it was indeed an Israeli-engineered operation.
On Monday, former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should restrain an unnamed intelligence official who has been divulging Israel's attacks on Iran to the media.
In an interview on Army Radio, Lieberman said "everyone knows who that intelligence official is," but did not name the person.
He specifically invoked reports in the New York Times quoting a "Middle Eastern intelligence officer" who said Israel had planted a bomb at Nantanz.
Reuters contributed to this report.