Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was born in 1958. He served as a brigadier general in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and worked both as a physics professor at a university and as the top nuclear scientist in the country.
In the mid-2000s, the United Nations Security Council voted to freeze his assets due to his work on Iran’s alleged nuclear arms program.
A decade later, Fakhrizadeh established the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, which conducted research into nuclear weapons development.
In mid-November, I published my analysis of a notable spike in coordinated anti-Iranian propaganda that was being simultaneously pushed by media in Israel, the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom. I indicated then that this was a tell-tale sign of an impending and, likely, dramatic action to be taken against Iran.
So, it came as no surprise to my audiences that such an event did take place just a week later. On November 27th, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was murdered in a high-profile assassination operation.
Iran has blamed Israel for the murder – a charge that Israel disputes, though such denials are typical in the immediate aftermath of Mossad assassination operations. Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani has promised retaliation at a time, place and manner of Iran’s choosing.
However, complicating the potential response is the underlying hope by some in Iran for renewed diplomacy with America.
US-IRAN DIPLOMACY AT RISK
There are a number of countries in the Middle East, namely Israel and Saudi Arabia, that don’t want to see Iran brought in from the cold. They want Iran to remain isolated on the international stage and are willing to take highly divisive and potentially explosive actions to try to prevent a return to diplomacy.
It isn’t an exaggeration to suggest that this assassination was designed to scorch the earth before President-elect Biden takes office.
It isn’t an exaggeration to suggest that this assassination was designed to scorch the earth before President-elect Biden takes office. Biden has made it clear on the campaign trail that it is his intent to restart diplomacy with Iran. His choice of Tony Blinken for Secretary of State demonstrates, that despite Blinken being a hardcore Zionist, Biden expects a return to some version of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known as the Iran Nuclear Deal.
Biden has said that if Iran moves back into compliance with the deal that America would rejoin it. He has also been critical of President Trump’s abandonment of the deal and his frequent provocations against Iran.
Biden said this:
“President Trump has no strategy; it seems to me. He has no end game. His constant mistakes and poor decision-making have left the United States with a severely limited slate of options on how to move forward with Iran. And most of those options are now bad.”
I would point out that what Biden says publicly for the sake of appearance is not necessarily in total alignment with what his team is likely discussing privately. The killing of Fakhrizadeh returns tensions between the USA and Iran to a boiling point. While this may complicate a smooth return to the previous terms of the JCPOA agreement, what Trump has done, with his act of belligerence on the way out the door, has given Biden’s team a perceived increased degree of leverage in future negotiations.
IMPENDING IRANIAN REPRISAL
Iran will respond in some way to the assassination of Fakhrizadeh. That’s a given. Regardless of whether that response will be directly against US interests, including against its ally Israel, or whether the retaliation will be against softer targets such as US-backed proxies in Iraq, Yemen, Syria or elsewhere – the net result is that the Biden team will cite that Iranian action as justification to demand that Iran make greater concessions as a form of pre-negotiation reconciliation.
Of course, that isn’t at all how Iran will see the matter. Their position will clearly be that, as a sovereign nation, they are beholden to no other government. If a brazen act of murder is committed against Iran or its government, it reserves the right to respond with force without regard for the feelings of the parties who initiated the conflict in the first place.
And, returning to the JCPOA deal is more complicated than just putting a signature on the paper again. If Biden were to just jump right back into the nuclear deal with no new demands, that would entail giving up a lot of that leverage his team believes that they hold over Iran.
We already know that Biden’s team is expecting new concessions from Iran, even if they haven’t been spelled out yet. For example, Jake Sullivan, Biden’s choice for National Security Advisor, “Iran would also have to be prepared to advance good-faith negotiations on follow-on agreements.”
The original JCPOA did not address certain significant matters to a great extent, such as Iran’s ballistic missile program, its support of militias and proxies throughout the Middle East and Arabian Peninsula – hotspots like Syria, Iraq and Yemen, for example.
The original deal, signed 5 years ago had certain sunset clauses in it that are due to expire in 5 years from now and others in 10 years. Those sunset clauses would be subjects of renegotiation expected by the Biden administration.
We simply don’t know at this point how much add-on material Biden’s team will try to get Iran to address before the USA returns to the deal. For that matter, Biden could surprise us by returning to the deal as a sign of good faith with some caveat that ongoing commitment to the deal by the United States will be contingent on measurable progress with Iran on some of those other matters, such as Iran’s ballistic missile program or the backing of proxies in around the Middle East.
TRUMP’S SCORCHED EARTH STRATEGY
Adding to the potential complications of all of this is that Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal taught Iran a hard lesson: one US president cannot make a long-term promise on behalf of the country. All the hard effort, concessions and victories made through diplomatic efforts with one US administration can be overturned in the blink of an eye by the subsequent administration.
…the provocative assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh are evidences that reinforce the world view of the hardliners that America and Israel are duplicitous and that we engage in treachery at every opportunity.
Until Trump withdrew from the deal, US presidents had largely upheld agreements made by previous administrations as a matter of precedent. They understood that one of America’s most valuable assets is our reputation and our word. Better for a president to not overturn a predecessor’s significant diplomatic achievement than to do irreparable damage to the confidence that another nation has in our government’s ability to keep a promise. Not only has President Trump broken with precedent, but he has carried out a scorched earth policy toward Iran that makes it infinitely more difficult for his successor to rebuild a bridge of diplomacy.
IRANIAN HARDLINERS EMBOLDENED
This stinging slap in Iran’s face has had a discernable impact on the attitudes of members of Iran’s parliament. The pragmatists who negotiated the original nuclear deal with the Obama administration, despite the objections of the hardliners of the time, have been put on their heels. “We told you that America couldn’t be trusted,” is what they hear from their hardline counterparts today.
We now see that such hardliners are ascendant in Iran. The withdraw from the Iran deal, the assassination of their beloved military hero, Qassem Soleimani, the man most responsible for the defeat of ISIS in the Middle East, and now the provocative assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh are evidences that reinforce the world view of the hardliners that America and Israel are duplicitous and that we engage in treachery at every opportunity.
Iran will be holding a new presidential election in June and most are currently expecting that one of these hardliners will win.
ISRAEL’S ANTI-IRANIAN AGENDA
I’ve spoken in terms of US-Iranian relations, but let’s turn to Iranian attitudes toward Israel. For while President Trump would certainly have green-lit the assassination, its genesis, planning, and orchestration was almost certainly an Israeli Mossad operation. According to the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, Israel is indeed behind the assassination.
A few different versions of events have emerged since the killing on November 27th. In one version, Fakhrizadeh’s car was stopped in a roadside ambush and surrounded by a hit squad of 12 gunmen who fled the scene afterward. But the most recent version of events, broadcast on Iranian state television networks, is that the killing was carried out using a remotely controlled vehicle and machine guns. If that turns out to be true, then the satellite and other technologies necessary to carry out such an operation are most definitely available to Israel.
Israel has the means and the motive to conduct this kind of operation, and they also have a long history of stunning assassinations against high-level targets in Iran – including speeding up on motorcycles next to cars carrying enemy targets out on the highway and attaching a magnetic bomb to blow it up.
And then we have the fact that Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, singled out Fakhrizadeh in a made-for-tv propaganda special in 2018. Netanyahu spoke of innocuous sounding programs to which the nuclear scientist was connected, but which Netanyahu claimed were linked to secret nuclear arms production. Netanyahu even repeated Fakhrizadeh’s name and told the public to remember it.
Not only does such a threat impugn Netanyahu in the court of public opinion, but if this matter were to be argued in a court of law, it could be presented as a piece of evidence toward his guilt.
For me, one of the more significant indicators that this was an Israeli attack is because of what the attack intended to accomplish. When you understand the attack’s purpose, it becomes easier to identify the perpetrator by determining which party had the motive to achieve that specific purpose.
First, the purpose of this assassination was not to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Even up until President Trump withdrew from the deal, his own administration published regular updates on Iranian nuclear facility inspections which stated emphatically that Iran was not trying to build nuclear weapons. If the goal were to stop Iran from getting a bomb, then the Iran deal would not have been abandoned in the first place.
Second, Israel and the USA have known about Fakhrizadeh’s efforts for well over a decade. In the past, Fakhrizadeh was the primary repository of nuclear knowledge in the country. But today, that knowledge is spread out among many other scientists. Eliminating Fakhrizadeh has no impact on whether or not Iran can move forward toward nuclear arms development.
DEEPER PURPOSE OF THE ASSASSINATION
What, then, is achieved by the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh if not to stop Iran from building a nuclear bomb?
The primary impediment to the profit-driven ambitions of oil corporations linked to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States in the Middle East is Iran. The assassination of Fakhrizadeh is intended to inflame tensions and incite an Iranian reprisal – followed by a rapid escalation against Iran before the Biden administration can take office. The goal is to lure Iran into a back-and-forth series of increasingly hostile exchanges. Such kinetic action might include IRGC or proxy attacks against US forces, most likely in Iraq, or direct action against the state of Israel.
There is a line that Iran cannot cross without significant consequence. Direct attacks on US or Israeli forces, bases or embassies would essentially kill any hope of the USA returning to the JCPOA. If Iran can be lured into actions that eliminate the prospect of a return to the JCPOA, then the collective sanctions levied against Iran in the ongoing economic war will never be lifted. Iran’s currency will continue to devolve in value. The nation’s GDP, much of it derived from oil, will continue to see dramatic declines. Citizens will continue to experience worsening economic conditions. And the CIA and Mossad will find it easier to stoke civil uprisings and unrest.
The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh is not about killing Iran’s nuclear program. It’s about killing the nation of Iran itself.
In 1953, the CIA orchestrated the overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Iran to allow for the return of a pro-western puppet who placed control of Iran’s oil resources back into the hands of western oil corporations and the international bankers who finance them.
It should not go unnoticed that the control of oil routes and resources is at the center of the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Azerbaijan, Sudan and nearly everywhere else that the United States and Israel are fomenting war.
The Middle East is a geopolitical chess game for control of oil. And Iran is the most desirable piece on the board.
Follow Jake Morphonios on Twitter: @morphonios