Iran Accuses Israel, U.S. in Assassination of Nuclear Scientist
Iran accused Israel and the U.S. of being behind the assassination of one of its top nuclear scientists on Friday and vowed revenge, sharply escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf in the final weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was the head of research and innovation at Iran’s Ministry of Defense and widely seen as having a major role in the country’s nuclear program. He was killed close to the Damavand campus of Islamic Azad University, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) east of central Tehran, the semi-official Tasnim news reported.
“Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today. This cowardice — with serious indications of Israeli role — shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a tweet, without offering any evidence for Israel’s involvement.
Iran’s army said the U.S. also bore responsibility, according to the Iranian Labor News Agency. The Minister of Defense, Amir Hatami, told state TV the killing was “clearly linked” to theU.S. assassination of General Qassem Soleimani by drone in January.
The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to comment, as did officials at the Pentagon. TheCentral Intelligence Agency didn’t immediately respond to questions about whether the U.S. had knowledge of plans to carry out an assassination.
Trump re-tweeted a New York Times report on Fakhrizadeh’s killing without comment, as well as a tweet by an Israeli journalist who called the killing “a major psychological and professional blow for Iran.”
Photos published by the semi-official Fars news agency, purportedly from the scene, showed blood splattered on the street next to an Iranian-made black passenger car with the window down on the driver’s side. The car’s windshield had been shattered by several bullet holes.
Fakhrizadeh’s death following the killing of four other Iranian nuclear scientists since 2010, with Tehran usually blaming the intelligence agencies of its arch foes, Israel and the U.S.
While Israeli officials didn’t comment, the country has long viewed Iran’s nuclear research efforts as one of its biggest national security threats. Israel has vowed to take any measures necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear warheads, weapons Tehran says it has never sought to develop.
The U.S. and Israel are also widely believed to have worked together on a cyber attack which struck centrifuges linked to Tehran’s nuclear program about a decade ago.
Netanyahu had singled out Fakhrizadeh in an April 2018 presentation he gave on Iran’s nuclear program, claiming that the scientist was the director of a secret project to develop nuclear weapons.
TheUnited Nations’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has said “Project Amad” was mothballed in 2003, and Iran dismissed Netanyahu’s presentations at the time as “lies and war-mongering.”
The assassination of Fakhrizadeh comes at a sensitive time in Iran as Trump’s defeat in the Nov. 3 U.S. election offers an opportunity to reset ties with the West after years of economic and military confrontation.
Call for Revenge
His death could trigger the sort of popular anger that followed the targeted killing of Soleimani in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad ordered by Trump. Iran fired missiles at bases housing American troops in Iraq in response to that attack, causing no fatalities but raising fears of a slide to war between the two adversaries.
Iranian forces also inadvertently shot down one of their own passenger airplanes in response to the Soleimani strike.
Zarif urged the international community to condemn the latest attack, while the head of Iran’s armed forces, Major General Mohammad Bagheri, called for the assassination to be avenged.
Axios reported this week that Israel’s government had instructed the military to prepare for a possible U.S. strike against Iran during the remainder of Trump’s term, though it said the order wasn’t based on intelligence or an assessment that the U.S. would order an attack.
Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today. This cowardice—with serious indications of Israeli role—shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators
Iran calls on int’l community—and especially EU—to end their shameful double standards & condemn this act of state terror.4:28 PM · Nov 27, 2020
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