Iran says ‘downs’ Israeli drone over nuclear site
An Israeli radar-evading spy drone trying to penetrate Natanz nuclear enrichment site in central Iran was shot down by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, state news agency ISNA said on Sunday.
“A spy drone belonging to the Zionist regime [Israel] was brought down by a missile … This stealth drone was trying to approach the Natanz nuclear zone,” Agence France-Presse quoted the Revolutionary Guards as saying in a statement on their official website sepahnews.com.
Reuters cited the Israeli military as saying that it could not comment on foreign reports.
Both, Israel and the West suspect Iran of planning to build a nuclear bomb.
Drone to sabotage nuclear talks?
While the West is trying to use diplomacy to get Iran to abandon its disputed nuclear program, Israel has rebuffed the approach, leading some analysts to suggest that Tel Aviv may have sent the drone in a bid to foil the international nuclear talks in Geneva.
“This will profoundly complicate any talks in Geneva,” George Joffe, a research fellow at the Centre of International Studies at Cambridge University, told Al Arabiya News, adding that “the reason is: Israel is not a direct party of the negotiations and therefore the decision to send a drone over Natanz will be seen as a direct provocation designed to make sure the talks will not succeed.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday that a “military option” was “necessary” for the success of negotiations aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program.
Netanyahu’s statement came after a landmark deal between the West and Iran under which Tehran will freeze or reduce some of its atomic activities in return for a limited break from crippling international sanctions.
Joffe explained Israel sending a “drone directly over Natanz, an extremely sensitive site, and make it public,” was “something that is new.”
“The Iranians will not enjoy that,” Joffe added.
He said there was a possibility that Iran would respond in some way, “whether it is from Lebanon or Gaza, I can’t say, but they have in the past demonstrated that they also have drone technology, they have used it in the context of Israel.”
In Lebanon, Iran has its proxy ally, the Shiite movement of Hezbollah, while in the Gaza Strip it has the Islamic group Hamas.
According to a Reuters’ timeline, in December 2012, Iran said it had captured a U.S. intelligence ScanEagle drone, but the United States said at the time there was no evidence to support the assertion.
In December 2011, Iran said it had captured a U.S. RQ-170 reconnaissance drone which was reported lost by U.S. forces in neighboring Afghanistan.
Iranian commanders have since announced they had extracted technology from the aircraft and were reverse-engineering it for their own defense industry.
Alireza Nourizadeh, a senior researcher and director at the Centre for Arab and Iranian Studies, also agreed that the alleged drone flight was an attempt by Israel to affect the nuclear talks but that it would be a futile as both the West and Iran are determined to make the talks a success.
“The Iranians may be angry but it is not going to change anything: the Iranians are committed to having an agreement at the end of the day,” the London-based Nourizadeh said.
“I don’t think we are seeing any negative response by the Iranians,” he said, adding that he didn’t expect Hezbollah would carry out any actions against Israel. He also dismissed any links to Saturday’s launching go two rockets at Israel from southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah has a strong presence.
Nourizadeh said both the United States and Israel have long worked to sabotage Iran’s nuclear drive at least covertly backed by spies, who are active, in the Islamic Republic.
In 2010, France’s Le Figaro newspaper alleged that Israeli intelligence was behind a blast in Iran’s Imam Ali military base, some 500 kilometers southwest of Tehran.
“[In the base] Iranians had hundreds of missiles and all were destroyed during an explosion, the Israelis were definitely responsible,” Nourizadeh said.
In 2010, Iran’s nuclear facilities were hit by a virus known as Stuxnet, which was widely believed to have been developed by the United States and Israel, though no government took responsibility for it.
In March of this year, pumps at Iran’s planned Arak reactor, seen by the West as a potential source of plutonium that could be used in nuclear bombs, were subjected to a failed sabotage attempt, a senior Iranian official said.
“They are not leaving Iranians alone, they are chasing Iran from the sky and the land, through their spies and they are very active in Iran,” Nourizadeh said.
However, asked about the timing, Nourizadeh said Netanyahu wanted to show that he was still strong and sturdy amid the ongoing conflict with the Hamas-run Gaza, in which more than 2,000 Palestinians have been killed.
On Sunday, Iran said that its foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif would meet EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Sep. 1 in Brussels to agree a framework for renewed nuclear talks.
Ashton is the lead negotiator for the six major powers seeking to reach a comprehensive deal with Iran to allay long-standing international concerns about its nuclear program by Nov. 24.
The Iraq connection
While Iran denied a report that it was ready to help counter militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in return for progress in negotiations with world powers over its nuclear program, Joffe linked the nuclear talks with Iran and its neighbor Iraq.
“Iran is passively cooperating with the U.S. over the situation inside Iraq, and from this point of view the Israeli action is most unhelpful,” he said.
Joffe described Iranians being in a “strong position” because they know their significant role in Iraq.
“Therefore the degree to which the West is prepared to make concessions [to Iran] to encourage them to cooperate over Iraq, it would be the degree to which the nuclear talks will succeed,” he said.
“They are quite confident that they [Iranians] will obtain benefits,” he explained, but Israel is “simply trying to prevent that from occurring.”
So far, Iran and the West had been working to a July target date but then they agreed to extend it to give more time to reach a historic deal.
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told IRNA that the new round of full talks would take place in New York ahead of the opening of the U.N. General Assembly on Sep. 16.
“As long as Iran’s nuclear program is not transparent, Iranians using all sort of ways to hide something, this sort of mission [drones or sabotage] will continue,” Nourizadeh concluded.