Following the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the Iranian chief nuclear scientist, nuclear experts, and senior officials who in the past served at Israel’s secret nuclear reactor in Dimona have been asked to exercise extra caution in their daily conduct, Reshet Bet radio reported Friday morning.
Meanwhile, in his first major interview since winning the 2020 election, President-elect Joe Biden told CNN “the bottom line is that we can’t allow Iran to get nuclear weapons.” But he followed this with a thorough criticism of President Trump’s policy regarding Iran, most notably his decision back in 2018 to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
“He has pulled out to get something tougher, and what have they done? They’ve increased the ability for them to have nuclear material. They’re moving closer to the ability to be able to have enough material for a nuclear weapon. And there’s the missile issues,” Biden said.
Earlier this week, Biden told Thomas Friedman of the NY Times (Biden Made Sure ‘Trump Is Not Going to Be President for Four More Years’): “Look, there’s a lot of talk about precision missiles and all range of other things that are destabilizing the region,” but above anything else, “the best way to achieve getting some stability in the region” is to deal “with the nuclear program” of the Islamic Republic.
Israel has dealt a serious blow to that nuclear program last Friday, by taking out Fakhrizadeh, the so-called “father of Iran’s nuclear program,” spreading fear among the remaining scientists in the program that the long arm of Israel’s Mossad can reach anyone it chooses to hit (Fakhrizadeh’s Assassination May Bring on Flight of Iranian Scientists Fearing for their Lives). Now Israel’s security apparatus is preparing to absorb Iran’s retaliation for the move, which no one doubts would come, sooner or later.
One scientist who used to work at the Dimona reactor told Reshet Bet he had been asked to avoid regular hiking trails which can be monitored and recorded by enemy agents. He was also asked to pay attention to suspicious packages and unconventional events that arouse his suspicion. He cited security officials who had told him that it was not out of the question that Iranian elements were monitoring his activities via the Internet and on social networks.
Israeli embassies and consulates around the world have been on high alert following the Fakhrizadeh assassination a week ago. Security officials have expressed concern about attempts to harm Israeli tourists in the Gulf states, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, which recently normalized relations with Israel. In fact, the UAE Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship has banned the entry of workers from of 13 Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, Syria, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tunisia, Lebanon, Somalia, Yemen, and Algeria, to protect Israeli tourists from terrorist attacks on UAE soil (UAE Ban Entry of Low-Wage Workers from 13 Muslim Countries).
At the same time, no overt steps have been taken by the IDF to increase alertness. IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi said earlier this week during a visit to the northern border that the forces are continuing their operational routine along the border, and that the IDF will continue its activities to prevent an Iranian encroachment in Syria.
The question of the timing of the Iranian response is crucial: Iran is likely to retaliate before Biden takes office on January 20, but close enough to inauguration day so President Trump won’t have time to take military action. In that context, Israeli media reported that US military intelligence officers have met in recent days with their Israeli counterparts to deepen cooperation on the possibility of an Iranian response.
Biden for his part told CNN it was “hard to tell how much” the recent Fakhrizadeh assassination would complicate his dealings with Tehran. Biden added: “All those things, I think, are going to be very difficult. But I know one thing: We cannot do this alone. And that’s why we have to be part of a larger group, dealing not only with Iran but with Russia, with China and a whole range of other issues.”
Tehran Times quoted Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a Middle East security and nuclear policy specialist at Princeton University (The timing for Fakhrizadeh assassination is not coincidental: security expert), who wrote that the timing of the Fakhrizadeh assassination “was aimed at blocking Biden’s intention of offering Iran ‘a credible path back to diplomacy.”
The senior analyst argued that “the ‘return to Iran deal’ policy as proposed by Biden has terrified both Netanyahu and MBS to the effect that they had to get together in an unprecedented meeting in Saudi Arabia. To be sure, they have done what they could and will continue to do so to prevent the Biden administration from re-joining the JCPOA.”
One can hope.