Multiple Israeli media outlets, including Haaretz, claimed that the blackout was caused by an Israeli cyberattack on the eve of Israel’s independence day. On Sunday night, embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to security chiefs, such as Mossad head, Yossi Cohen, asking them to “continue in this direction, and to continue to keep the sword of David in your hands.”
If Israel is responsible, the act threatens to continue to heighten regional tensions between Iran and America’s ally. Netanyahu also met with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday along with his Dfeense Minister, Benny Gantz.
The blackout came hours after the facility began to operate new centrifuges that can enrich uranium more quickly.
Salehi did not expand on how the blackouts had affected the atomic facility but said that the country plans to “seriously improve” its nuclear technology while trying to also lift international sanctions. Nuclear spokesperson Behrouz Kamalvandi told Iranian state television that “there was no casualty or damage and there is no particular contamination or problem”
Iran has long maintained its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Earlier this week, an Iranian cargo ship that was connected to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard off the coast of Yemen was hit by an explosion. Iran has blamed Israel for the blast, which occurred in a hot zone near the conflict between Saudi Arabian forces and the Iranian- aligned Houthis in Yemen. The Wall Street Journal reported that Israeli cover operations are responsible for over a dozen oil tanker attacks in recent years.
There has been a steep drop in reported drone strikes since President Joe Biden took office, as Insider reported last month. Now The New York Times is reporting why: the new administration is conducting a major policy review that began the day it came into power.
The last administration unleashed the CIA and Pentagon, scrapping rules meant to protect innocent men, women, and children from being killed by unmanned aerial vehicles. It also spent its last few weeks in office escalating in Somalia, conducting a half-dozen attacks in the first half of January alone.
There have been no strikes there since January 20, however.
The Times reported that Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan imposed strict new controls on the use of drones outside of active war zones, requiring the White House to sign off on any such attack.
The new administration is using the pause to review how the military and its intelligence agencies conduct extrajudicial killings. Among considerations: whether or not restore Obama-era rules that limited drone strikes to targets considered an active threat – not just members of a designated terrorist organization – and only when there is “near certainty” that no women or children will be killed.
That is just the sort of review that critics of US foreign policy hoped for when Insider first reported on the apparent lull in drone strikes.
“If there is a pause in air strikes overall, we hope it’s due to a reassessment of the United States’ strategy and a recognition that past strikes have not succeeded in ending attacks by armed groups, but have instead killed and injured thousands of civilians,” Daphne Eviatar, director of the Security With Human Rights program at Amnesty International, said at the time.
It is extremely unlikely, however, that the Biden administration will stop using drones altogether. It is not even certain that it will return to limits on their use that former President Barack Obama imposed in his second term amid an outcry over civilian deaths in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere.
As The Times reported, the chief concern is rolling back the Trump-era expansion of the rules of engagement, with Biden officials discovering that ostensible safeguards for civilians “were sometimes stronger on paper than in reality.”
That resulted in a record-breaking pace of US airstrikes. For example, according to monitoring groups, the US may have bombed Yemen more often during Donald Trump’s four years in office than under all previous US presidents combined.
“I totally changed the rules of engagement,” the last president boasted.
The missile came after an Israeli ship in the Gulf of Oman suffered an explosion earlier this week, with Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz saying that his “initial assessment” was that Iran was responsible.
The Biden administration on Friday released a declassified US intelligence report that explicitly implicated Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the brutal killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
“We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” said the report, provided by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
It added: “We base this assessment on the Crown Prince’s control of decisionmaking in the Kingdom, the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of Muhammad bin Salman’s protective detail in the operation, and the Crown Prince’s support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi.”
The report noted that Prince Mohammed since 2017 has had “absolute control” over the kingdom’s security and intelligence organizations, “making it highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this nature without the Crown Prince’s authorization.”
“The Crown Prince viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the Kingdom and broadly supported using violent measures if necessary to silence him,” the report said.
The intelligence assessment also named with “high confidence” 21 people who “participated in, ordered, or were otherwise complicit in or responsible for the death of Jamal Khashoggi on behalf of Muhammad bin Salman.” The report said, however, that it was unclear “whether these individuals knew in advance that the operation would result in Khashoggi’s death.”
The names included Saud al-Qahtani, formerly a close advisor to Prince Mohammed who’s been accused of directing the operation behind Khashoggi’s murder. Al-Qahtani was dismissed shortly after the killing.
The release of the declassified report on Friday is one sign of how President Joe Biden is drastically altering the dynamic with Riyadh. After Khashoggi’s killing, President Donald Trump defended Prince Mohammed and suggested that “maybe” the Saudi leader had no knowledge of the killing. “The world is a very dangerous place!” Trump said.
In 2019, the UN released a report that also implicated the Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi’s killing, which it described as “a deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible under international human rights law.”
Khashoggi, who once had close ties to the Saudi royal family, was killed and dismembered by agents of his own government in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. His remains have still not been found. Khashoggi had been lured to the consulate to pick up documents necessary to marry his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish citizen.
“Assessments of the recordings by intelligence officers in Turkey and other countries suggest that Mr. Khashoggi could have been injected with a sedative and then suffocated using a plastic bag,” the UN report said. Turkish officials have also said that Khashoggi’s body was dismembered with a bone saw.
A Washington Post columnist at the time of his killing, Khashoggi was often critical of the Saudi government.
Khashoggi’s gruesome killing prompted global outrage and sparked bipartisan calls for the US to reevaluate its relationship with Saudi Arabia. Democrats and Republicans alike explicitly accused Prince Mohammed of being behind Khashoggi’s death.
Biden snubs MBS as he recalibrates the US-Saudi relationship
The US-Saudi relationship has taken a sharp turn under Biden. Beyond releasing the Khashoggi report and moving to end US involvement in Yemen, the White House recently announced that Biden would speak with King Salman and not Prince Mohammed in official communications. This marked a major diplomatic rebuke of the Saudi crown prince, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, and underscored how serious Biden is about recalibration.
Biden spoke with King Salman for the first time as president on Thursday. A White House readout of the call said Biden “affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law.”
“Together they discussed regional security, including the renewed diplomatic efforts led by the United Nations and the United States to end the war in Yemen, and the U.S. commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory as it faces attacks from Iranian-aligned groups,” the White House said.
The readout did not mention Khashoggi, and it wasn’t clear whether Biden brought up the Saudi journalist’s killing. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider.
Following the release of the report on Friday, the Treasury Department unveiled sanctions on Gen. Ahmed al-Asiri, a former deputy head of the Saudi intelligence services, and the Saudi Rapid Intervention Force over their involvement in Khashoggi’s killing. No sanctions against Prince Mohammed were announced, even though the intelligence assessment said that he approved Khashoggi’s murder and that the RIF answered to him.
A senior administration official said the Biden administration was concerned that sanctioning the crown prince could “rupture” the US-Saudi relationship, Reuters reported.
In scenes broadcast live on several news channels, after the first explosion, civilians and security officers ran away as cameras panned out to the blast, while the politicians scurried away to safety. Images and videos from the blast show chaotic scenes in the aftermath, as well as a smoke and debris-filled airport with bodies strewn around inside terminals.
No government officials on the plane were hurt by the blast, per the AP report.
Yemeni Communication Minister Naguib al-Awg, a passenger on the plane, told the AP that the attacks may have been drone attacks, stating there were multiple.
“It would have been a disaster if the plane was bombed,” al-Awg said, claiming that the plane was the target and was scheduled to land earlier.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Yemen’s government has charged that Iran-backed Houthi rebels targeted the airport with ballistic missiles. Officials reported a second explosion near the presidential palace, where the new cabinet members were transferred after the first attack.
The announcement and introduction of a revitalized cabinet in Yemen potentially offered a new chance for collaboration between Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates.
Throughout the course of the decade-long humanitarian crisis and war, which has gripped Yemen, Hadi’s government has at times sided with UAE-backed separatists and been supported by a US and Saudi-led military campaign, which has targeted Houthi rebels, who control swaths of Northern Yemen as well as the capital Sanaa. At least 233,000 Yemenis have been killed throughout the war from indirect and direct causes, according to the UN.
Several high-ranking Yemeni officials responded to the attack, as did humanitarian organizations on the ground in Aden, a highly disputed port city.
Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed tweeted that he and his cabinet were unharmed, calling the attacks a “cowardly terrorist act.”
Health Minister Qasem Buhaibuh tweeted that at least 25 people were killed and 110 others were wounded, adding that many were seriously wounded.
Several humanitarian workers and journalists were killed in the blast.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said that three workers were killed in the Aden blast. “This is a tragic day for the ICRC and for the people of Yemen,” said Dominik Stillhart, ICRC’s director of operations.
Yemeni Belqees TV, a Yemeni news channel, said that reporter Adeeb al-Ganabi was killed in the airport blast, and Yemeni Information Minister Moammer al-Iryani added that at least 10 other journalists reporting on the historic arrival were wounded.
The Yemeni prime minister also tweeted a video after the attack, and said his government was in Aden “to stay.”
After Houthi rebels took over Sanaa in 2014, Aden has largely been Hadi’s base. The plane carrying Yemen’s new cabinet was returning from Riyadh, where they were sworn in last week after striking a deal with the separatists.
Yemen’s internationally recognized government has largely operated from Riyadh during the war, where cabinet members have been self-exiled.
The UN Secretary-General and several embassies issued statements condemning the attack as well.