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Iran Slams Israel for Recent Activity at the 'Region's Only Nuclear Bomb Factory'

New imagery raises questions about activities at the Negev Nuclear Research Center.

Maxar satellite imagery of the Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Center in the Negev Desert outside Dimona, Isreal on Feb. 19, 2017.

Maxar satellite imagery of the Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Center in the Negev Desert outside Dimona, Isreal on Feb. 19, 2017. (Photo: Satellite image (c) 2020 Maxar Technologies)

New satellite analysis by the Associated Press of Israel's nuclear facility in the Negev desert provides fresh evidence of recent, major activity at at the site.

Israel, which has not signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), has never officially declared its nuclear weapons program but is believed to have an arsenal of an estimated 90 nuclear warheads.

The secretive facility in question is the Negev Nuclear Research Center near Dimona.

Last week, the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM) said that commercial satellite imagery it obtained and that was taken in January showed "significant new construction" at the site.

"The construction site is located in the immediate vicinity of the buildings that house the nuclear reactor and the reprocessing plant (to the southwest from the buildings, around the point with coordinates 31.000, 35.143)," said IPFM. The purpose of the construction was not clear.

In its reporting Thursday the AP noted that the activity seen by IPFM followed decades of no changes to the layout at the facility. From the news outlet:

Satellite images captured Monday by Planet Labs Inc. after a request from the AP provide the clearest view yet of the activity. Just southwest of the reactor, workers have dug a hole some 150 meters (165 yards) long and 60 meters (65 yards) wide. Tailings from the dig can be seen next to the site. A trench some 330 meters (360 yards) runs near the dig.

Some 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) west of the reactor, boxes are stacked in two rectangular holes that appear to have concrete bases. Tailings from the dig can be seen nearby. Similar concrete pads are often used to entomb nuclear waste.

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Other images from Planet Labs suggest the dig near the reactor began in early 2019 and has progressed slowly since then.

Israeli officials did not respond to a request from the AP about the purpose of the activity. 

The activity did, however, elicit comment from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif—whose country's nuclear program has faced under harsh criticism from Israel.

In a Saturday tweet sharing The Guardian's reporting on the Dimona activity, Zarif tagged President Joe Biden, the International Atomic Energy Agency, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel and wrote, "Israel is expanding Dimona, the region's only nuclear bomb factory."

"Gravely concerned? Concerned? A little? Care to comment? I thought so," tweeted Zarif.

Further comment from Iran came Wednesday from Esmaeil Baghaei Hamaneh, Iran's ambassador to the U.N.

According to state-owned Press TV, Hamaneh said that Israel's attempts to puruse nuclear weapons posed a theat to regional and international peace. He said that "the United States and its Western allies should be held responsible for failure of the efforts to establish a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction given their support for the Tel Aviv regime and equipping it with nuclear arms."

The developments came amid hope from from U.S. progressives that the Biden administration was moving toward rejoining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal.

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