Iran is building a deep nuclear facility in mountainous terrain near the Natanz nuclear plant, satellite images provided by Planet Labs reveal. According to experts consulted by the Associated Press, the depth of the complex – between 80 and 100 metres – makes it difficult to reach by US air strikes using conventional weapons.

As shown in photos taken by the news agency, the facility covers an area of about 2.7 square kilometres and is protected by anti-aircraft defences, fences and members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. The Iranian delegation to the UN has stressed to AP that its nuclear activities are “peaceful, transparent and monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)”. In fact, Iran has for years limited access to IAEA inspectors and even disconnected surveillance cameras from its power plants, raising concerns about its nuclear developments.

The construction of this facility clashes with Western efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. According to IAEA data, particles of enriched uranium above 80% – a level very close to the level needed to make a nuclear weapon – were detected at Iran’s Fordow plant in February. The UN inspectors also calculated that Iran’s stockpile was more than 10 times higher than it possessed during its agreement with the Obama administration.

After former President Donald Trump announced the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal in 2018 and imposed new sanctions against the Tehran regime, Iran has made significant progress in its nuclear programme, raising regional and international concerns. For this reason, the West has pushed for talks with the Iranian authorities to try to restore the nuclear deal. However, negotiations have stalled for months due to Tehran’s demands and the new Russian-Iranian alliance in the midst of the war in Ukraine.

As Kelsey Davenport, a member of the Arms Control Association, warns to AP, if Tehran terminates this facility it will lead to “a nightmare scenario that risks a new spiral of escalation”. Davenport recalls that, because of how close Iran is to obtaining a nuclear bomb, there is “very little room” for Tehran to increase and develop its nuclear programme without overstepping the red lines of its main enemies, the United States and Israel. “At this point, any further escalation increases the risk of conflict,” he stresses.

Both Washington and Jerusalem do not rule out “any options” in the face of the growing development of Iran’s nuclear programme. “Diplomacy is the best way to achieve goals, but we will not take any options off the table,” the White House said. Both countries have been accused by Tehran of launching cyber-attacks against power plants such as Natanz. The Iranian regime has also blamed Israel for the deaths of several nuclear scientists, including Mohsen Fakhrizadeh – considered the father of Iran’s nuclear programme – who was killed in 2020 in Tehran province.

Regarding the actions taken by the Americans and Israelis, Davenport asserts that “sabotage may roll back Iran’s nuclear programme in the short term, but it is not a viable long-term strategy to protect against a nuclear-armed Iran”.

IDF chief: “We have the capability to strike Iran”

Reports of this new Iranian underground nuclear facility coincide with recent comments by Israel Defence Forces (IDF) chief Herzi Halevi, who warned that “negative developments” in the nuclear field could lead to “action” by the Israeli military. Halevi said that Israel is following Iran’s nuclear development “closely”, noting that the Islamic Republic “has made more progress than ever before” on Ukrainian enrichment. However, Halevi said that his country has “the capacity to strike Iran”, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Iranian officials have been quick to respond to the Israeli army chief, warning that an attack on their facilities would be the start of “a full-scale war for which Israel will be responsible”. A senior Iranian official quoted by Al Jazeera described Halevi’s statements as “terrorism”, claiming that they reflected “the depth of Israel’s internal problems”, referring to the massive protests that have been taking place for weeks against the judicial reform promoted by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, which Tehran sees as a symbol of the government’s weakness.

Source » atalayar