Iran nuclear scientist assassination timing raises questions over US involvement

Donald Trump is said to have sought options to strike Iran over its nuclear programme  - CARLOS BARRIA /REUTERS
Donald Trump is said to have sought options to strike Iran over its nuclear programme – CARLOS BARRIA /REUTERS

Iran was swift to blame Israel for the assassination of its top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

Indeed, eliminating targets in their cars is believed to be the hallmark of Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad, which deployed the tactic on several Iranian nuclear scientists between 2010 and 2012.

But the timing of the attack also raises questions about US involvement, coming just weeks after Donald Trump is said to have sought options to strike Iran over its nuclear programme.

While reports suggest Mr Trump, who withdrew the US from the 2015 accord that curbed Iran’s nuclear activity, was dissuaded from a military strike, this may possibly be one of the alternatives presented to him.

The news of Trump seeking military options to strike Iran was followed by reports of American B-52 bombers being sent to the Middle East to “reassure allies” and the Israel Defense Forces being put on high alert in the event of an Iranian retaliation.

Around the same time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embarked on a historic, albeit “secret”, trip to Saudi Arabia to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman. The surprise meeting represents the hardening anti-Iran alliance in the Middle East that Mr Trump has worked hard to shape during his time in office.

It is also, perhaps, a signal to the incoming Joe Biden administration. Mr Biden is currently in the middle of his transition process. If this is Mr Trump’s last act to bring Iran into line, it could also be seen as an attempt to sabotage any future diplomacy between the US and Iran.

President-elect Biden has already suggested returning to the nuclear deal if Iran promises strict compliance. Iran began breaching aspects of the nuclear accord a year after the US re-imposed punitive sanctions on the country.

Mr Trump on Friday retweeted several reports highlighting the assassination. 

For many, Mr Fakhrizadeh had the Sword of Damocles hanging over him after being name checked by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a May 2018 presentation on files secretly stolen by Mossad that detailed Iran’s nuclear program.

Mr Netanyahu gave Mr Fakhrizadeh a high profile that should have also brought him protection. So the fact that a hit squad could take him out will raise urgent questions about the weakness of Iran’s internal security. 

While his death is a blow to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, they doesn’t hinge on one man. In practical terms, though, this will shake Iran’s internal security establishment as now many will be fearing who could be next.

This assassination comes just days after Iran engaged in a prisoner swap for three Iranians who were part of a foiled plot to assassinate Israeli diplomats in Bangkok, Thailand in 2012. 

That plot was in revenge for the series of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists around that time.

Iran will be expected to retaliate again. The world will be watching closely – as will Mr Biden.

Holly Dagres is a fellow at the Washington-based think tank, the Atlantic Council, editor of its IranSource and curator of The Iranist newsletter

source: yahoo.com

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