Iran promises revenge after nuclear scientist slain

Iran promises revenge after nuclear scientist slain

 Iranian leaders were vowing vengeance this week after their country’s top nuclear scientist was killed in a suspected Israeli hit, an assassination that could derail efforts by the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden to revive the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal. 

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who led Iran’s nuclear weapons program for two decades, was being chauffeured to a town outside Tehran when he was shot and killed. How the hit unfolded isn’t clear: Iranian state media initially reported that Fakhrizadeh’s convoy was ambushed by a team of gunmen but later claimed the scientist was killed by a remote-controlled machine gun. 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani accused Israel of attempting to create “chaos” with the assassination, and pledged to hit back at “the proper time.” U.S. intelligence officials said there was little doubt Israel was behind the attack; Israel has not commented on the killing. The ambush took place just weeks after the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran now has enough low-enriched uranium to eventually build two nuclear bombs—a stockpile 12 times larger than permitted under the Obama-era pact President Trump abandoned in 2018. If Iran were to lash out against Israel in the coming weeks, it would likely blow up a proposed deal outlined by Biden: that the U.S. will drop nuclear- related sanctions imposed by Trump if Tehran returns to the nuclear limits imposed by the 2015 accord. Jake Sullivan, tapped to serve as Biden’s national security adviser, said that reviving the nuclear deal is “really up to Iran.” 

 Israel was within its rights to take out Fakhrizadeh, said Eli Lake in Bloomberg.com. Iran’s unrelenting pursuit of a nuke poses an “existential threat” to Israel, but not because Tehran “would launch a first strike.” Rather it’s that Iran’s other destabilizing actions— supporting terrorists, arming insurgents across the Middle East—will be much harder to deter if it acquires an atomic weapon. Did the Trump administration approve the hit? asked Barak Ravid in Axios.com. 

The White House “hasn’t concealed its ambition to make it harder for Biden to renew talks with Iran,” and just days before the operation, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also a foe of Tehran. However it came about, Fakhrizadeh’s killing “will have no impact on Iran’s nuclear program,” said Robin Wright in NewYorker.com. 

The regime already has all the knowledge and technology needed to fashion a nuclear device; what it lacks is “the material— highly enriched uranium.” This assassination might actually force a diplomatic breakthrough, said Max Boot in WashingtonPost.com. An earlier round of suspected Israeli hits on Iranian scientists—four dead from 2010 to 2012— combined with sanctions and U.S.-Israel cyberattacks helped push Tehran to enter negotiations and sign the 2015 pact. “It will be an ironic twist of fate if Fakhrizadeh’s death only adds to the pressure on Iran to conclude a deal with a Biden administration staffed by many of the same officials who negotiated the earlier agreement.”

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