Middle East: Taking aim at Iran’s nuclear program

Middle East: Taking aim at Iran’s nuclear program

 The assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist “was not just a hit, it was a bloody and symbolic killing,” said Seth Frantzman in The Jerusalem Post (Israel). For two decades, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was the driving force behind the Islamic Republic’s nuclear weapons program, and his killing last week has been widely attributed to Israel. 

The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—in keeping with long-standing Israeli policy on covert operations—has neither admitted nor denied responsibility. Israel is believed to have taken out Iranian nuclear scientists before, notably in a series of assassinations from 2010 to 2012. But this hit, in broad daylight on a rural road outside Tehran, was much showier. One of the armor-plated cars in Fakhrizadeh’s entourage was obliterated, another riddled with bullets. The assassination comes just weeks after it was revealed that al Qaida’s No. 2, Abu Muhammad al- Masri, had been shot to death on the streets of Tehran, allegedly by Israeli agents. Together, the two high-profile slayings send the message that while Iran might be able to flex its military might in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, it “can’t keep safe the terrorists it harbors or its own head scientists and generals.” Why kill Fakhrizadeh now? asked Anshel Pfeffer in Haaretz (Israel). It could be that Israel decided to take advantage of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “last days in power” to carry out an operation that would not be approved by a President Joe Biden. Israeli intelligence suspects Tehran likely won’t take any drastic retaliatory action “until the regime has a clear idea of the Biden administration’s exact policy” on the U.S. rejoining the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal, which Trump quit in 2018. Less likely, it could be that Israel orchestrated the attack at the behest of Iran hawks in the Trump administration “to make it harder for their successors to engage with Tehran.” Either explanation, though, means that Israel made a very risky bet that Iran would not retaliate significantly and that the Biden administration will not “shut Israel out of consultations” in the future. If Netanyahu calculated wrong, Israel could pay a terrible price, either through loss of life or alienation of an ally. 

Israel will pay, all right, said Mohammad Imani in Kayhan (Iran). Some Iranians argue that we should “not fall into the Zionist trap” by taking revenge. They say retaliating with force will only “sabotage Iranian negotiations with the incoming U.S. administration” over the 2015 nuclear deal, which is just what the Zionists want. But why should we want that deal back? It allowed the West to spy on our nuclear facilities through “unprecedented inspections,” and now the Zionists have used that information to commit terrorism. The Zionist murderers must be punished, preferably on their own territory. They “must grapple with the nightmare of death.” Yet our revenge need not be immediate, said Abbas Salimi Namin in Iran (Iran). We should be sober and patient, and let our experts determine what strike would bring the greatest pain. We could retaliate in a month, true. But “if we wait and plan for a year, we can hit the enemy harder.”

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