Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) claimed over the weekend to have brought down an Israeli drone it said was spying on the Natanz uranium enrichment site. The report, which appeared on the country’s official Sepahnews.com site, prompted a response of “no comment” from Israel.
“A spy drone of the Zionist regime (Israel) was brought down by a missile…This stealth drone was trying to approach the Natanz nuclear zone,” the IRGC’s statement on the website reads. “This act demonstrates a new adventurism by the Zionist regime…The Revolutionary Guard and the other armed forces reserve the right to respond to this act.”
Iran’s IRNA state news agency declared, “The downed aircraft was of the stealth, radar-evasive type and it intended to penetrate the off-limit nuclear area in Natanz…but was targeted by a ground-to-air missile before it managed to enter the area.”
Military officials in Iran claim at least part of the aircraft is intact. “Major parts of the devices of the drone are intact and have been received by our friends that can be used for further information,” said General Ramazan Sharif, a spokesman for the IRGC.
He claimed it was “identified upon arrival in Iranian airspace”, but allowed to continue for a time to track its trajectory.
An Israeli spokesman told AFP on Sunday that its military does “not address foreign media reports”.
Iran is in the midst of nuclear negotiations with the P5+1 powers, Britain – China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany – which imposed heavy sanctions in an attempt to curb the rogue nation’s ability to produce nuclear weapons. Iran for its part claims its enrichment program is strictly peaceful.
In July, a six-month interim deal was extended into November, during which time the sides are meant to work out a more lasting deal. The US wants Iran to cut its nuclear program by three quarters, whereas Iran wishes to expand uranium enrichment ten-fold.
The Natanz site houses more than 16,000 centrifuges for uranium enrichment and is the country’s primary enrichment site. The more fortified Fordo site contains an additional 3,000 centrifuges, and IRNA reported on the inauguration Saturday of a new plant in Isfahan.
The Isfahan site, according to Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s nuclear agency, will convert uranium hexafluoride, which can be used to make nuclear weapons and fuel, into uranium dioxide, which can only be used in reactors, as part of the deal reached with the P5+1.
Meanwhile, Iran is unwilling to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to revisit the Parchin military site, nor to have access to the country’s nuclear scientists.
Gen. Hossein Dehghan was quoted by IRNA as saying that the IAEA had already been to Parchin and determined nothing had happened there. The site is suspected of being used for nuclear testing. Iran is concerned its conventional military capabilities would be revealed should the nuclear watchdog visit the site. As for the scientists, Iran has accused the agency in the past of leaking information which has gotten them assassinated.
Iran has repeatedly expressed its intentions to “wipe Israel off the map”, a sentiment which has led Israel to oppose any agreement which allows Tehran to maintain any part of its nuclear enrichment program. Earlier this month, Israeli sources revealed that Iran had attempted, unsuccessfully, to assault the country’s civilian communications system through a large-scale cyber-attack. The attempt was thwarted.
This is not the first time Iran has claimed to have shot down an enemy spy drone; in 2011, Iran said it had taken out a Lockheed Martin RQ-170 stealth UAV. The US later admitted one of its drones was in Iranian hands, but refused to say how it had gotten there.
Other sabotage attempts against the Iranian nuclear program include the 2010 Stuxnet virus which temporarily shut down thousands of centrifuges at Natanz. In December, Iran’s Fars news agency claimed Israel and Saudi Arabia were teaming up to update and relaunch that virus. Then in March, Iran said it had identified and neutralized a sabotage attempt at the Arak heavy water nuclear reactor.