Israel Accused of Killing Iranian Scientist to Derail Nuclear Accord

November 29th, 2020 - by Juan Cole / Informed Comment & Dave DeCamp /

In Bid to Kill a Biden Return to Iran Nuclear Deal, Israel Assassinates Leading Nuclear Scientist

Juan Cole / Informed Comment

 (November 28, 2020) — The Iranian newspaper Ettela’at reports that on Friday, what it called “armed terrorist elements” mounted an assault on the automobile carrying Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was badly wounded in the midst of the clash between his security team and the assailants and was transported to hospital, where he died of his injuries. Fakhrizadeh, an eminent nuclear scientist, was the head of the Research and Innovation Organization within the Iranian Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics.

Iran’s chief justice, Ayatollah Sayyed Ibrahim Ra’isi, characterized the attack as by “foreigners and international Zionism,” with, he said, “the sinister objective of forestalling the scientific progress of the country.”

The Iranian government believes that Israel’s Mossad carried out the assassination.

The speaker of the Iranian parliament, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, also blamed Israel, but included among the culprits “global arrogance,” the regime’s term for American imperialism in the Middle East. 

Likely, the operation, whether by Israel or Saudi Arabia or both, was intended to spike tensions in US-Iranian relations so as to make it more difficult for Joe Biden to start back up the 2015 nuclear deal or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Israel does not acknowledge its covert operations, but it seems the most likely culprit.

Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in May, 2018, and has strangled Iran with an unprecedented trade and financial embargo. Iran had given up 80% of its civilian nuclear enrichment program in 2015 in return for a lifting of international and US economic sanctions. Because Trump’s secretary of the treasury, Steven Mnuchin, has threatened third-party sanctions on firms and countries that deal with Iran, the country has never received any sanctions relief from any quarter, despite Its having completely abided by its obligations 2015-2018.

Assassination threatens fate of Iran Nuclear Deal.

In fact, the US moved from sanctions to blockade, preventing Iran from so much as selling its petroleum. Since 2018, in order to demonstrate its displeasure in having been taken for a ride, Iran has acted out by contravening some nuclear deal stipulations in a relatively minor ways.

In other words, the nuclear deal had an excellent prospect of forestalling Iran from ever moving to militarize its civilian nuclear enrichment program, but Trump’s destruction of it has had no success in stopping Iran from enriching uranium, in stockpiling it, and in establishing spheres of influence in Syria and Lebanon.

Trump and his cronies are afraid that Biden and his secretary of state, Antony Blinken, both of whom were deeply involved in the negotiations toward the nuclear deal, will revive it. Reviving the JCPOA could bring Iran into the world economy and lead it to be open to pressures from Europe and the US to change its behavior. 

Israel and Saudi Arabia do not believe that Iran has no military nuclear ambitions, and they see it as a geopolitical enemy whom they would like the US to crush for them and keep weak, as the Bush administration broke the legs of Iraq, once one of the more formidable countries in the Middle East. That is, the likely alternative to a return to the 2015 nuclear deal is not the unstable status quo but eventually a US-Iran war that would be cheered on by Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program, and has not had one since about 2003. Back then, Fakhrizadeh was the head of it. After it mothballed its rudimentary military experiments once the existence of its nuclear enrichment program was revealed by spies of the People’s Jihadi (Mojahedin-e Khalq) Organization (the MKO or MEK), Iran kept to civilian enrichment.

Uranium in nature is mostly inert U-238, but it is sprinkled with volatile U-235. If you enrich uranium 238 with more U-235 than is found in nature, you increase its volatility. If you enrich to 3.5% you make it into fuel that can run nuclear reactors. It gets hot and you can boil water with it that turns turbines. That’s all it is, an exotic way of boiling water. Iran has a reactor, and is building more, down at Bushehr. 

You’d have to enrich the uranium to about 95% U-235 to make a bomb. Iran has never enriched beyond 19.5%, which is the level that is needed to run its small medical reactor, and is the cut-off for Low Enriched Uranium. There is no reason to think that Iran knows how to enrich to 95% for a bomb or has the various additional technologies that would be necessary to construct a bomb.

Sometimes you see US journalists allege that Iran has “enough” enriched uranium to make “two bombs.” That is frankly ridiculous. You don’t make bombs by the amount of uranium you possess that is enriched to 3.5% or 4.5%. Without the necessary level of enrichment, you’d just have some rocks that could be used to heat water.

Iran accepted extensive and intrusive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency of its civilian nuclear enrichment program under the JCPOA from 2015 on. It was earlier under inspects as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The IAEA has consistently certified that no Iranian nuclear material has ever been diverted (i.e. to possible military uses). No country actively under UN inspection has ever developed a nuclear weapon.

Fakhrizadeh was hardly the only high-powered Iranian nuclear scientist, and murdering him by terrorism likely has no implications for Iran’s ongoing enrichment.

My guess is that the regime will decline to take the bait by reacting in a dramatic way. As for reviving the nuclear deal, the Iranian foreign minister has said that if the US went back to observing the JCPOA and lifted the financial and trade blockade on Iran, Iran would go back to observing its obligations strictly.

That is what Trump, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman are deathly afraid of.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Israel Suspected in Assassination of Top Iranian Scientist

Netanyahu names fakhrizadeh as a target.

Killing Comes Amid Heightened Tensions after Trump Reviewed Options to Strike Iranian Nuclear Site

Dave DeCamp /

(November 27, 2020) — A top Iranian scientist was assassinated near Tehran in an ambush on Friday, Iranian state media first reported. Israel has previously alleged the scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, headed an Iranian military nuclear program.

In a statement, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif condemned the attack and said there are “serious indications” of an Israeli role in the assassination. In 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called out Fakhrizadeh at a news conference and said, “remember that name.”

“Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today. This cowardice—with serious indications of Israeli role—shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators,” Zarif wrote on Twitter.

The New York Times cited three anonymous officials who said Israel was behind Fakhrizadeh’s assassination.

Fakhrizadeh headed Iran’s Amad Project, a nuclear program the US and Israel claimed was a military operation. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and US intelligence, the Amad Project was halted in 2003.

Israel is believed to be responsible for a series of assassinations of Iranian scientists that mainly took place between 2010 and 2012. While Israel has not officially acknowledged its role, Israeli officials have hinted that they were behind the killings. So far, Israeli officials have not commented on Fakhrizadeh’s death.

The bloody aftermatch of the boadside assassination.

The killing comes at a time of heightened tensions in the region. Earlier this month, reports said President Trump reviewed options to strike an Iranian nuclear site. Since then, Israel has leaked stories about their preparedness for a US attack on Iran, and there has been an uptick in Israeli airstrikes against what they call Iranian linked targets in Syria.

For their part, Iran is urging its allies in the region to exercise caution, hoping to avoid a military confrontation with the US before Trump is out of office.

Both the Israelis and the Trump administration are hoping to sabotage a future Biden administration’s efforts to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Trump reviewed options to bomb Iran after the IAEA this week reported Iran was further violating the JCPOA.

Since the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, Iran has gradually violated some limitations of the deal to gain leverage for future negotiations. All the violations are minor and easily reversible, but the Trump administration and Israel are using the IAEA report to hype the threat of Iran’s nuclear program.

A report from Middle East Eye published Friday says Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to convince Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to agree to an attack on an Iranian nuclear facility during a secret meeting on Sunday.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.