An explosion took place early July 2 in what analysts have identified as a recently-built centrifuge production facility at Iran's Natanz nuclear complex, sparking speculation that it may have been an act of sabotage.
The blast reportedly occurred around 2am. The flames from the blaze that followed the blast were said to have been bright enough to be detected by a US satellite.
Iranian officials appeared to be trying to downplay the latest incident. The spokesman of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization claimed that although damage had been caused, work at the site had not been interrupted. The organization claimed the incident only affected an "industrial shed."
However, US analysts who had been monitoring the building in the northwest corner of the Natanz complex via satellite images identified it as a recently-opened centrifuge production facility.
Fabian Hinz, a researcher at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California, described the fire as “very, very suspicious.” In an interview with AP, he said it could potentially delay Iran's work with centrifuges significantly.
The incident came less than a week after a huge explosion in the mountains east of Tehran near the Parchin military base, and several days after a blast in the city itself.
The Natanz complex is the same one that was hit in 2010 by the Stuxnet computer virus that disrupted and destroyed centrifuges.
Located about 250 kilometers south of Tehran, the main uranium enrichment facility is said to have underground facilities protected by more than seven meters of concrete.
“Theoretically speaking, Israel, the U.S. and others have an interest to stop this Iran nuclear clock or at least show Iran there’s a price in going that way,” said Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies. “If Iran won’t stop, we might see more accidents in Iran.”