On November 27th, the treacherous murder that was committed in the suburbs of Tehran on a Friday, a holy day for all Muslims, of the leading Iranian nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh elicited strong reaction not only from the Iranian public, but from Israel, the United States, and the entire world.
The scientist was an iconic figure who represented Iran’s nuclear program and directed the research and innovation department at the Islamic Republic’s Ministry of Defense; he also took an active part in developing ballistic missiles. He helped pioneer Iran’s nuclear (and missile) programs, and the first thing his name is associated with is the top-secret military nuclear project dubbed AMAD, which was under development by Tehran between 1999 and 2003. In 2015, the journal Foreign Policy pointed to Fakhrizadeh as one of five Iranians included in the list of the 500 most influential people in the world – amidst the panic back then in Israel, and the monarchies throughout the Persian Gulf, over Iran’s missile program. In that area, despite Iran’s proclamation that its military program was purely for self-defense, Iranian missiles were perceived as a kind of point at the end of the Iranian spear. And their real power has already been given a trial run on Saudi oil infrastructure facilities, after the Saudis had instigated a number of provocative acts against Tehran. The fears harbored by Persian Gulf monarchies and Israel intensified even more when Sepah News published a recording showing how four ballistic missiles – Fakhrizadeh’s brainchild – were launched from the ground on July 29th, 2020 “in a way that was completely disguised”; after that, they even temporarily suspended the work done at the US bases at al-Jafreh, south of Abu Dhabi, and at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
In 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking on the topic of Iran’s nuclear program, stressed Fakhrizadeh’s special role in helping develop missiles, and working for the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, urging his audience “not to forget this name”. Not only did the Al Arabiya TV channel take pains to point this out, but so did the Israeli publication The Times of Israel. This circumstance, according to the assessments made by many observers, even then heralded a “black mark” put against Fakhrizade by Israel.
On top of that, we must not forget that Israel equates the emergence of another nuclear power, especially in the Middle East, with the threat of death for the Jewish state. That is why the Jewish state actively adheres to the “Begin doctrine”, named after former Prime Minister of Israel Menachem Begin, in the actions it takes against its enemies, and according to which “Israel must not allow an enemy country to develop the potential to destroy the Jewish state.” It was Begin who, in June 1981, ordered the Israeli Air Force to bomb the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq. After that, Israel launched airstrikes against certain targets in Syria in September 2007, which were identified by the Israeli intelligence services as sites where nuclear weapons were being developed.
Fakhrizadeh was the fifth nuclear physicist killed in Iran over the past 10 years, and along with that the telltale signs of Israeli involvement could be observed with all the assassination attempts. The murder of Fakhrizadeh was the most high-profile one, since he was the highest-ranking official in his industry. In the past, Israel has used specially trained opponents of the Islamic regime to do its dirty work in Iran against Iranian nuclear facilities, and nuclear physicists. However, given the professionalism and complexity involved in the attack on Fakhrizade, it can be assumed that it was carried out by the Israelis themselves.
Israel has long been correctly suspected of conducting a series of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, cyber attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities, and even attempts to sabotage them. In 2019, Israeli intelligence expert Ronen Bergman suggested in an interview with Israel’s Channel 10 that since many of Fakhrizadeh’s closest aides were killed in assassination attempts linked to the Mossad, it is “reasonable to assume” that he was also among the “targeted victims”. As far as the involvement of the Israeli intelligence services in provocative acts of sabotage on Iranian nuclear facilities, the New York Times reported in July that it was Israel that detonated an explosive device at a nuclear facility in the Iranian city of Natanz.
Many things also indicate Israel’s complicity in the events that occurred on November 27th, which allowed not only the Iranian authorities to pronounce the Jewish state guilty of the scientist’s murder, but also the New York Times, which wrote: “One American official – along with two other intelligence officials – said that Israel was behind the attack on the scientist.”
The assessment given by The Hill on the assassination of the Iranian scientist is in sync with that as well:
Israel, it seems, is back to its policy from 2010 to 2012 of the assassination of Iran’s nuclear scientists, suspended under pressure from the Obama administration so that Iran would agree to being a party to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)…
The professionalism and complexity of this latest incident more likely involved actual Israelis.
In addition to accusing Israel of organizing the murder of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in Iran and quite a few other countries the opinion is being expressed today that the US is involved in this, and that it is ratcheting up its attempts to whip up an armed confrontation with Iran. Specifically, the arguments that lend support to this notion are the significant increase in Washington’s military activity in the Middle East in recent years, the deployment of B-52 bombers to the region, the presence of the US Navy’s aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in the Persian Gulf, and even Acting US Secretary of Defense Chris Miller, something that Fox News reported on. And the publication Axios even reported that the Israeli army is counting on US President Donald Trump to order a strike on Iran before leaving office in January.
However, the idea of Washington playing a leading role in the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, or that it intends to unleash a war with Iran, is highly questionable. Caught in a very difficult situation now after the “re-election crisis of November 3rd”, and intending to put forward his candidacy for future presidential elections (for example, in 2024), Trump is well aware that war with Iran would be political suicide for him today, since given that Iran has fairly seriously bolstered its air defense systems in recent years the Americans would not be able to avoid casualties, while carrying out air strikes. And the Iranian nuclear program itself, no matter what people may say about it around the world, does not concern Trump the way it does Israel. After all, Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons, and perhaps even North Korea does, but he does not plan on bombing them. Therefore, in this instance the role of the United States is most likely an “auxiliary” one, to show its support for Israel, even though against this background the latter has been particularly “raging and fuming”.
In addition, the sharply critical reaction from the world community, and in the United States itself, to the murder of Fakhrizadeh is also a factor that deters Washington from taking any further action in this incident. It is worth noting that not only a significant number of politicians in the world, but leadership with the EU and the UN, have already reviled this bloody murder, for which no one has taken any responsibility yet. “The assassination of Iranian nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in Tehran is a criminal and extremely reckless act,” ex-CIA chief John Brennan said, adding that if the authorities in a certain country are behind that then such an “act of state-sponsored terrorism would be regarded as a flagrant violation of international law.” The orchestrators of this murder clearly want to prevent Joe Biden from establishing a dialogue with Iran, and a Middle East settlement, write the American media.
As far as Iran itself goes, its perfectly natural reaction “to avenge another villainous murder” is being kept track of with marked tension by the world community today. The Hill notes that the assassination of Fakhrizadeh involuntarily brings to mind the assassination of the influential commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Qasem Soleimani, which was carried out by the US military in January in Baghdad. “Tehran has sworn to avenge [the murder of Soleimani], but has yet to do so. Iran’s habitual preference to wait for an opportunity now has to be balanced against an urge to lash out in revenge,” the newspaper underscores.
In Israel, fears are resounding that one of the possible retaliatory strikes made by Tehran might wind up being on Eilat – and therefore the entire tourism industry in the Jewish state, which could harm not only this country but regional tourism as a whole – or on Israeli nuclear facilities themselves.
Iran’s parliament (the Islamic Consultative Assembly, or the Mejlis) has already approved a procedure for the expedited review of one legislative initiative that allows for increasing the extent of its uranium enrichment, the Iranian Tasnim agency writes.
The forecasts made by certain analysts do not bar the possibility of Iran toughening its regional maritime traffic policy, in particular in the Red Sea, and using Yemeni Houthis and various formations of Shia militants in the region to exact retribution, as the missile strikes executed on American military bases in Iraq have already demonstrated – carried out a few days after the American terrorist attack against General Soleimani.
However, some emphasize that Iranian leaders have proven that they can be patient, and prudent, in their responses, and that may largely depend on the extent to which the international community, and especially Iran’s partners in the nuclear deal, denounce those who initiated the killing.
Therefore, if Iran sticks by its initial hot-headed reaction to exact revenge for this murder, and Israel by its relentless intention to destroy its enemies as per the Begin doctrine, then we can expect the situation in the region to worsen, even right up to military conflict. And in this case, calls for the parties to exercise restraint – which have already been sounded by the UN, Russia, China and a number of other countries – are quite fitting to help prevent a situation from developing dangerously any further that will not bring security to Israel, the United States, the region, or the world as a whole.
Vladimir Platov, an expert on issues in the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.