Iran threatens to strike Israel's nuclear sites if its facilities are bombed

Tehran warns it will also reconsider its commitments to atomic agreements if attacked

This Monday, Feb. 22, 2021 satellite photo from Planet Labs Inc. shows construction at the Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Center near the city of Dimona, Israel. A long-secretive Israeli nuclear facility that gave birth to its undeclared atomic weapons program is undergoing what appears to be its biggest construction project in decades, according to satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest on Israel-Gaza

Iran threatened on Thursday to attack Israeli nuclear sites and reconsider its commitments to atomic agreements if its nuclear facilities were bombed, as it anticipated a retaliation to its unprecedented missile and drone strike on Israel.

Brig Gen Ahmad Haghtalab, commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps unit responsible for safeguarding Iran's nuclear sites, said those facilities were “fully secure”.

But he warned that Israel’s “nuclear facilities have been identified, and the Islamic Republic has accessed the necessary data on all targets”.

“To respond to their possible action, we have fingers on the trigger to launch powerful missiles to destroy the identified targets,” he added.

“[The] Islamic Republic will hit the regime’s nuclear sites using advanced weapons if it takes action against Iranian nuclear facilities,” state-run media quoted him as saying on Thursday.

Iran has declared 21 sites to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The agency has also inspected suspected sites where uranium particles have been found – including particles enriched over 80 per cent – close to the level generally required for a nuclear weapon.

Tehran denies it is trying to build a nuclear weapon, but has raised alarms at the agency by obstructing inspections and failing to account for uranium traces at undeclared sites. Tehran no longer abides by limits on uranium enrichment, which it agreed to under a 2015 deal with world powers that the US abandoned in 2018.

On Wednesday, Iran denied this was a problem, despite the International Atomic Energy Agency long insisting Tehran had not explained the highly enriched uranium traces.

If Israel “intends to resort to the threat of attacking our nuclear facilities as a means to put pressure on Iran, reviewing the current doctrine and nuclear policies of the Islamic Republic and distancing from past considerations is possible and conceivable”, threatened Mr Haghtalab.

Under its policy of nuclear ambiguity, Israel neither confirms nor denies having atomic weapons. It is among only four countries that have never joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty, an international accord meant to stop the spread of nuclear arms.

In 2021, a secretive Israeli nuclear facility in Dimona at the centre of the country’s undeclared atomic weapons programme underwent what appeared to be its biggest construction project in decades.

The same year, Iran simulated an attack against a Dimona nuclear reactor during extensive military drills that included launching multiple ballistic missiles. Fars news agency, an affiliate of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, published a video that shows a mock-up of the Israeli nuclear site as the target of the simulated operation.

Range of options

Sources close to Tehran told The National this week that Iran is gearing up to counter an Israeli retaliation, possibly within its borders. Iranian military and political leaders have determined a specific level of Israeli response that could be tolerable, even if on Iranian soil, without provoking severe retaliation.

The debate has been raging in Israel about how to respond to the unprecedented direct Iranian attack last week, with some ministers said to be furious that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not yet launched a retaliation.

The weekend's barrage of about 350 drones and cruise and ballistic missiles on Israel was the first direct Iranian attack on the country in the history of their decades-long rivalry.

It followed an Israeli strike on Iran's diplomatic premises in Damascus, which killed two Iranian generals and several other officers involved in co-ordinating the attacks of Iran-backed groups in the region against Israel over its war in Gaza.

Iran's nuclear research sites are scattered across the country but the biggest, Natanz and Fordow, are embedded in mountains 225km south of Tehran and 32km north-east of Qom.

Inspections over the years have been intermittent, despite the US, the EU and the UN insisting on access, mirroring contentious talks on returning to a 2015 deal that former US president Donald Trump scrapped.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action under Barack Obama, President Donald Trump's predecessor, briefly allowed UN inspectors access to sites, highly regulating uranium enrichment for civilian purposes in exchange for a significant easing of sanctions.

However, since the plan's collapse and the restoration of tight sanctions on Iran, relations between the agency and Tehran have frayed, with Iran even accusing the organisation of working with Israel to sabotage its nuclear complexes.

For years, Israel has invested heavily in slowing the programme, launching a cyber attack on enrichment plants in 2010, through the Stuxnet virus, which damaged highly sensitive equipment used in uranium enrichment by breaking computer software. It also stands accused of sabotaging crucial research and uranium enrichment sites.

Scientists too, have been assassinated, most prominently Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a nuclear physicist and member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, widely seen as the leading figure behind Iran’s nuclear weapons research. He was killed near Tehran in 2020.

If Israel decides to strike Iran’s nuclear programme directly, it has options that could range from hitting the country's space programme, which some analysts say is cover for producing a nuclear missile, to striking uranium enrichment complexes deep underground.

Updated: April 18, 2024, 8:07 PM