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Assassination in Iran: Mideast tensions and US politics at play

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Last week, a leading Iranian government scientist, Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was assassinated in broad daylight in the outskirts of Tehran. It was a targeted, technologically sophisticated operation, which most experts attribute to Israel, the only country in the region with the capabilities and motive to do so. Per tradition, Israel will neither confirm nor deny its role in the attack.

Assuming it was an Israeli operation, why would Israel risk such a brazen attack, one that is sure to invite retaliation? Because the stakes are so high. Fakhrizadeh has been identified by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.S. State Department and numerous intelligence analysts as the “father” of Iran’s secret, illegal nuclear weapons effort that continues to this day, even after Iran pledged to disband it as part of the Iran nuclear deal.

His death not only removes the longtime head of the program, but also sends a clear message to other Iranian scientists. Fakhrizadeh was well-guarded at all times, and kept a low profile. If he could be assassinated without warning, no one involved in Iran’s nuclear weapons program is safe. It’s also a message to the Iranian regime that Israel will not tolerate a nuclear Iran terrorizing the Middle East. 

Again, assuming Israel was responsible, why would it act now? Because Israeli leaders fear that President-elect Biden and his senior advisers, several of whom negotiated the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, will resume the pro-Iran, anti-Israel policies of the Obama administration. Time is running out for Israel and others worried about Iran’s nuclear weapons program. They must act decisively now, before Biden takes office, or live with the inevitable consequences of an empowered and potentially nuclear Iran. Iran has made no secret of its hegemonic ambitions in the regime. Its goal is the destruction of the state of Israel and the domination of the entire Muslim Middle East. 

Unsurprisingly, the Iranian regime expressed outrage and threatened retaliation against Israel, the U.S. and its usual litany of enemies. Iran is likely to retaliate; a missile barrage on a major Israeli city has been rumored. Iran’s national pride demands a response, but it is unlikely to be one of any real consequence. Iran’s leaders aren’t fools, after all; why would they risk escalation on the eve of an Iran-friendly Biden administration taking power? Far better to appear as the aggrieved victim and play to the Biden team’s anti-Israel prejudices. Plus, Israel’s intelligence and military capabilities — especially its superb multi-layered missile defense system, Iron Dome — will keep damage to a minimum.  

Several former Obama administration officials who have been tapped to join a Biden administration rushed to condemn the assassination. Ironically, they seem more upset at the demise of the mastermind of Iran’s illegal, secret nuclear weapons program than with the fact that Iran has been cheating on their nuclear agreement all along.

Despite being the Obama administration’s signature foreign policy achievement, the Iran nuclear deal (the JCPOA, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) was always an illusion — just lots of blue smoke and mirrors. It was hyped as a landmark multinational agreement to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. But it did nothing of the sort; it merely delayed Iran’s program by a few years, after which Iran would become a nuclear weapons state. It did nothing to limit Iran’s development of missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons, and it ignored completely Iran’s terrorist activities throughout the Middle East.  

And now, evidence has emerged that Iran was cheating all along — it never stopped its nuclear weapons program. It was just kept out of sight, under the subterfuge of developing a peaceful nuclear program.

While this might be lost on an incoming Biden administration, it is being noted throughout the Middle East. Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, declared recently that the Saudi kingdom reserves the right to arm itself with nuclear weapons if the Iranian program is not stopped. If Iran and Saudi Arabia go nuclear, others in the region, including Egypt and Turkey, are unlikely to sit on the sidelines; they, too, will seek nuclear weapons as a hedge against their neighbors.  

If Biden administration officials care more about genuine peace than injured pride over President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, they will take advantage of the current situation. The U.S. now has considerable leverage over Iran, much more than it had during the Obama years. Iran’s economy is in dire straits, and it faces the prospect of a united coalition between its traditional enemies, Israel and the Sunni Arab nations. 

Instead of embracing Iran, refilling its coffers and emboldening its ambitions, an incoming Biden administration should hold Iran to account over its violations. The Biden administration should seize this opportunity to renegotiate a real agreement with Iran, one that limits its nuclear and missile programs and bans its support of troublemakers in the region. Unless it is willing to constrain Iran, the Biden administration is likely to accelerate the one thing the Iran nuclear deal was supposed to prevent — a nuclear arms race in the most dangerous, volatile neighborhood on the planet.

KT McFarland held national security posts in the Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Trump administrations. She is the author of the new bestseller, “Revolution: Trump, Washington and ‘We the People’.”

Tags biden administration Donald Trump Iran and weapons of mass destruction Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Mohsen Fakhrizadeh Nuclear program of Iran

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