U.S. officials have warned Israel that attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities are counterproductive and might be encouraging Tehran to speed up its nuclear program, The New York Times reported Sunday.
Israeli officials have dismissed the warnings, saying they have no plans to stop sabotage attacks on Iranian facilities, according to the report, which cited unnamed officials.
Iran has rapidly resumed operations at facilities damaged by blasts caused by Israeli intelligence, even upgrading them with newer machines allowing faster uranium enrichment, the newspaper said.
Meanwhile, officials in the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command said it is widely accepted that Tehran's improvement in its defenses against cyberattacks means it would be much more difficult to successfully commit attacks like the one that put centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear site offline for over a year a decade ago, the report said.
In the White House, officials have been considering whether an interim deal with Iran might be possible in the hopes of buying time for talks and keeping Israel from delivering on threats to bomb Iranian facilities, according to the report.
The United Nations’ atomic watchdog said last week that it believes that Iran has further increased its stockpile of highly enriched uranium in breach of a 2015 accord with world powers.
The International Atomic Energy Agency told member nations in its confidential quarterly report that Iran has an estimated stock of 17.7 kilograms (39 pounds) of uranium enriched to up to 60 percent fissile purity, an increase of almost 8 kilograms since August.
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Such highly enriched uranium can be easily refined to make atomic weapons, which is why world powers have sought to contain Tehran’s nuclear program.
The Vienna-based agency told members that it is still not able to verify Iran’s exact stockpile of enriched uranium due to the limitations that Tehran imposed on UN inspectors earlier this year.
The IAEA has been unable to access surveillance footage of Iranian nuclear sites or of online enrichment monitors and electronic seals since February. The agency’s chief, Rafael Mariano Grossi, told The Associated Press this month that the situation was like “flying in a heavily clouded sky.”
Senior diplomats from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia plan to meet with Iranian officials in Vienna on November 29 to discuss bringing Tehran back into compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The pact eased sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
On Sunday, the former head of Mossad, Israel's national intelligence agency, acknowledged in an interview with Haaretz that Iran has been enriching more uranium since the American withdrawal from the nuclear deal.
Yossi Cohen, who ended his tenure as head of the Mossad this year, said that despite the assessments of some former senior officials that it is now too late to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear threshold state “it’s never too late.”
In response to a question about Israel’s ability to carry out a military strike against Iran by itself, Cohen responded: “I think Israel should have the ability to fight this aspect alone, like we did twice in the past in Iraq and Syria.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.