Iran’s Intelligence Ministry announced on Saturday night that it had successfully foiled a “terrorist” bombing in Isfahan, the country’s third-largest city and the main hub for its nuclear program, only hours before it was scheduled to take place—a story which, if true, would mark a major success for the country’s beleaguered intelligence services against Israel and allied dissident groups inside Iran.
The ministry announced the alleged operatives’ capture in a short statement released on Saturday night. It claimed that the network had “employed cutting-edge operational and communications equipment and powerful explosives, and wanted to conduct an unprecedented sabotage and terrorist operation in…pre-determined sensitive areas and targets,” without providing further detail.
A later announcement released by Iranian state-affiliated Nournews claimed that the group had intended to destroy a “sensitive center” in Isfahan. It added that the operatives had entered Iran through the mountainous northwestern Kurdistan region and had been captured after “one of the most complicated operations of Iran’s intelligence apparatus inside or outside the country.”
If true, the report appears to suggest that the group intended to target the Natanz nuclear facility in Isfahan, Iran’s flagship uranium enrichment site, and the target of previous attacks in 2020 and 2021. Those attacks, as well as a campaign of assassinations against Iranian nuclear scientists and military officers, were widely characterized as failures of Iran’s domestic intelligence services, and eventually led to the replacement of the longtime head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps intelligence services, Hossein Taeb, with Brig. Gen. Mohammed Kazemi, who had previously led the military branch’s internal security efforts.
Although Israel has never publicly claimed responsibility for the attacks, official Iranian statements have repeatedly accused them, along with Iranian dissident groups including the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, or MEK, of involvement. In June, Iranian officials announced that they had arrested three Iranians two months earlier on suspicion of working for Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency.
Tensions have built between Iran and Israel in recent years, particularly since the withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA nuclear agreement in 2018—a development that led then-President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on Iran
Iran has insisted that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes and has never admitted to seeking a nuclear weapon. However, leaked Iranian documents have shown warhead designs, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.