International media reported on an “incident” at the Natanz underground nuclear facility in Iran on 11 April 2021. The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) itself confirmed some type of incident, referring to it as a “terrorist attack.”
The timing of this incident is no coincidence. On 10 April 2021, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani inaugurated two new centrifuges at the nuclear facility which could have significantly advanced Iran’s nuclear capability. The message that Rouhani’s event sent was strong to those in and outside of the region. It was the equivalent of “We’re back baby!” to counter domestic economic anxiety, the embarrassment of shooting down a civilian airliner, and adventurism in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq that has Iranians wondering “why?” Success further developing a nuclear program would provide Iran with a strong negotiating position with the U.S. and Europe, as well as be a source of national industrial pride.
And then, in the blink of an eye, Rouhani’s “win” was taken from him. The AEOI called on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to intervene, the broader Iranian Government stated that retaliation was a reasonable response, and investment in the facility was lost. Reports suggest that the incident involved the power grid into or within the facility, suggesting that significant damage to electronics of all types is probable. From computers to lightbulbs, the facility is likely non-operational for some time to come.
Outside of Israel, the likely mastermind of the attack, claiming credit and highlighting that they will never allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon, there is some unique messaging opportunities to various audiences inside and outside Iran. Using the event to raise bigger questions, key audiences can be inspired to take action, question the regime, or reduce or stop their work to support Iran’s nuclear program.
- Iran Nuclear Scientists, Engineers & AEOI: Nothing is more frustrating that putting countless hours into a job and having your work literally or figuratively blow up in your face. “Incidents” against Iranian nuclear facilities happen on a regular basis and are frequently catastrophic. It is unlikely that the facilities will escape future targeting and the efforts of scientists and engineers allowed to be successful. Is it worth their time and effort? Are skills and knowledge better used to serve the people of Iran in a different way? Are salaries and benefits significant enough to be worth the risk of going to work each day? Will the government support families if someone perishes at work?
- Iranian (taxpaying) Public: Once again, limited public resources were diverted to a program that achieved nothing for the people of Iran. Time, money, personal resources are being allocated to an end that will never be met. Is this a good use of the money that the citizens of Iran have entrusted to the government? With the funds used just at the Natanz facility, what needs of Iranians could have been met?
- Hackers & Anti-Nuclear Activists: If ever you wanted to crack into an interesting target or protest a country that seems unable to secure a nuclear facility, the Natanz facility and Iran are where to look. Outside of the power grid, what else can be hacked to delay or destroy the Iranian nuclear program? How secure are the cyber defenses of Iran’s Government to include the nuclear program (or AEOI) and other national security-related ministries? For anti-nuclear activists, what does the on-going problems with Iran’s nuclear program suggest about their ability to prevent a catastrophic event? Are their safety protocols sufficient? Who could be harmed by a future incident?
The above is by no means a comprehensive list of audiences that could be focused upon, but they are three that may move the needle, even if slightly. It is unlikely that the Iranian Government will divest from its nuclear ambitions, but creating as many speed bumps as possible may highlight to the Iranian people and the world why a new leadership in Iran is needed.