Killing of Iran’s scientist aimed probably at making Tehran retaliate

Nicosia: Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an Iranian Professor of physics who was the brains behind the Project Amad, Tehran’s alleged covert programme for building a nuclear bomb, was killed near the city of Absard, 50 miles from Tehran last Friday in an ambush, by highly trained assassins, believed to be members of Mossad, the Israeli spy agency.

It is unclear how the attack actually took place, as a press report speaks about 12 assassins who exploded a Nissan car when Fakhrizadeh’s convoy of three bulletproof cars was passing, and then the gunmen opened fire on the cars, killing the nuclear scientist and his guards. However, Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency, quoting Iranian officials, says the assassination was carried out from distance with a remote-controlled automatic machinegun. “No human assets were present at the scene of the assassination and the shooting was carried out only with automatic weapons, ” it claimed.

Iran immediately accused Israel of being behind Fakhrizadeh’s death and for good reason. Since 2010 Israel had carried out 4 assassinations of scientists who were believed to be involved in Iran’s nuclear programme and caused explosions at various facilities associated with the programme. As has been its usual practice, Israel did not publicly admit that it was behind the killings.

It should be mentioned that in 2018, Fakhrizadeh was named by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who said that secret documents concerning Iran’s nuclear programme, which were stolen by Israel, showed that Fakhrizadeh secretly continued Project Amad.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, promised to retaliate for the killing of the prominent scientist, while President Hassan Rouhani declared that Iran would retaliate for the murder, but pointed out that it would do so at a time of its choosing. “In due time, they will answer for this crime,” he said, adding that the assassination shows Iran’s enemies despair and depth of their hatred”.

An immediate response came from the Iranian Parliament which on Sunday approved a vote to raise the rate of uranium enrichment to 20% (from 4%) and gradually withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan (Iran nuclear deal).

BBC reports that John Brennan, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) said the killing of the scientist was a “criminal” and “highly reckless” act that “risks lethal retaliation and a new round of regional conflict”.

However, although the Israeli government did not publicly admit that the assassination of the top Iranian nuclear scientist was its own doing, a senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the New York Times on Sunday that the world should “thank Israel for killing the father of Iran’s nuclear programme” and added that Israel would keep acting to curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Many analysts believe that US President Donald Trump gave the green light to the Israelis to kill Fakhrizadeh, pointing out that Trump recently sought options for a military strike on Iran’s nuclear programme, but was dissuaded from doing so by his senior advisers.

Amos Yadlin, Chairman of the Institute for National Security Studies of Israel told the Army Radio that whoever operated in Tehran “has one eye, maybe two on Washington. If the Iranians respond, it will enable President Donald Trump to order his generals to act against them. And if they don’t, it could still possibly block the Biden administration from opening negotiations.”

A similar view was expressed by Sweden’s former Prime Minister Carl Bildt who said: “It’s not unlikely that this targeted killing was part of efforts to prevent the Biden administration from reviving diplomacy with Iran and going back to the nuclear agreement”.

Zvi Bar’el, Middle Eastern Affairs Analyst for Haaretz newspaper, points out that the timing of the assassination, “even if it was determined by purely operational considerations, is a clear message to President-elect Joe Biden, intended to show Israel’s criticism of the intent to return to the nuclear accord with Iran and other issues, like freezing Iran’s ballistic missile programme in return for economic cooperation”.

Haaretz newspaper’s diplomatic reporter Noa Landau writes that US President Donald Trump has more than a month before he leaves the White House, and on his way, he could set the world on fire. In starting this conflagration, it seems as though he plans to strike every match in the box. Standing beside him, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be more than happy to lend him a lighter”.

Iranian Government Spokesman Ali Rabiei stated on Sunday that the Islamic Republic “should not fall into the trap of linking the assassination to past nuclear negotiations”. He added that the killing of Fakhrizadeh would not remain unanswered, but not at a time that they want or the way and place they expect. “Iran sets the time and the place,” he concluded.

What is noteworthy is that President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have maintained a deafening silence on the matter and did not utter a word about the assassination.

However, given that they publicly vowed to revive the nuclear deal with Iran, they probably think that by the targeted killing of Fakhrizadeh, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was betting on a harsh response by Iran, and in this way tried to sabotage future US negotiations with Tehran. This is something that it will be difficult for Biden to forget.