The assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh should not impact the future of Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear weapon, says Meir Bar of the Netziv Net website, pointing out that a new generation of Iranian scientists has been educated, trained, and employed for a long time as part of the program which is much more advanced and sophisticated than the one that Fakhrizadeh set up more than 20 years ago.
The damage is therefore not to the operation of the program, according to Bar. Instead, the assassination has been a psychological blow to the program and its top participants, seeing as it was carried out in broad daylight in the heart of Iran, proving once again that the long arm of Israel’s Mossad can reach anyone it chooses to hit.
The following scientists have been eliminated so far, most likely by Israel, and, remarkably, Iran’s nuclear program has not slowed down. Now the loss of the man whose name was synonymous with the program may give pause to the surviving scientists.
Between 2010 and 2012, five Iranian nuclear scientists: Masoud Alimohammadi, Majid Shahriari, Darioush Rezaeinejad, and Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan were assassinated, while Fereydoun Abbassi-Davani was wounded in an attempted assassination. Add to this list a sixth scientist (and brigadier general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was assassinated last Friday.
Two of the assassinations were carried out with magnetic bombs attached to the targets’ cars; Darioush Rezaeinejad was shot dead; and Masoud Alimohammadi was killed in a motorcycle-bomb explosion. The Iranian government accused Israel of complicity in the killings, though the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK) which Iran claimed was “financed, trained, and armed by Israel.”
In 2011 and 2012, Iran arrested several Iranian nationals in relation to the assassination campaign on behalf of Mossad. In June 2012, the Iranian government said it had arrested all the assassins.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said back when he was in office: “We will act in any way and are not willing to tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran. We prefer that this be done by means of sanctions, but in the end, Israel should be able to defend itself.”
It is believed that the Obama administration was pressuring Israel to suspend its assassination campaign in 2013, in preparation for signing the nuclear deal with Iran.
Stratfor reported that an additional Iranian scientist was poisoned by Mossad in 2007. In January 2015, Iran said it had thwarted another attempt by Mossad to assassinate an Iranian nuclear scientist – which may have been a reference to Israel’s decision to cancel an earlier assassination attempt on Fakhrizadeh.
John Brennan, who served as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency under President Obama from March 2013 to January 2017, and was part of the effort to forge the nuclear deal, condemned the Fakhrizadeh assassination in unusually harsh language:
This was a criminal act & highly reckless. It risks lethal retaliation & a new round of regional conflict. Iranian leaders would be wise to wait for the return of responsible American leadership on the global stage & to resist the urge to respond against perceived culprits. I do not know whether a foreign government authorized or carried out the the murder of Fakhrizadeh. Such an act of state-sponsored terrorism would be a flagrant violation of international law & encourage more governments to carry out lethal attacks against foreign officials.
These assassinations are far different than strikes against terrorist leaders & operatives of groups like al-Qaida & Islamic State, which are not sovereign states. As illegitimate combatants under international law, they can be targeted in order to stop deadly terrorist attacks.
The European Union also strongly condemned the killing of Fakhrizadeh, stating:
This is a criminal act and runs counter to the principle of respect for human rights the EU stands for. In these uncertain times, it is more important than ever for all parties to remain calm and exercise maximum restraint in order to avoid escalation which cannot be in anyone’s interest.