The raid alone was arrogant enough. A team of Israeli commandos with high powered torches broke into the safe of a well-preserved warehouse deep in Iran and set out before dawn with 5,000 pages of top secret documents about the country’s nuclear program.
Later, a few weeks later, in a television broadcast in April 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to the contents of the stolen documents and sarcastically hinted at the equally daring operations that were already planned.
“Remember this name,” he said, selecting scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh as captain of Iran’s secret attempts to collect a secret nuclear weapon.
Now Mr. Fakhrizadeh has become the last victim of the escalating campaign of daring secret attacks, ostensibly designed to torment Iranian leaders by reminding them of their weaknesses. The operations confront Tehran with a painful choice between adopting the coercive demands for swift retaliation and trying to make a fresh start with the less relentlessly hostile leadership of Joseph R. Biden Jr.
According to Iranian news media, Mr. Fakhrizadeh’s car, who was carefully driving a winding route to his mother-in-law’s house in a city outside Tehran, was stopped Friday by a bomb planted in an explosive-laden Nissan and cut off a power line. and witness accounts. Then an armed squad jumped out of a black jeep, defeated his bodyguards, and fired a gunfire before speeding up as Mr. Fakhrizadeh was dying on the street.
The murder of Mr. Fakhrizadeh was the last of a decade of mysterious poisoning, car bombing, shooting, theft, and sabotage that affected the Islamic Republic. Many of them hit largely unnamed scientists or secret facilities believed to be linked to its nuclear program, and almost all of them were attributed by both American and Iranian officials to Tehran’s worst enemy Israel, whose officials are openly praised for their repeated success that Israeli agents are behind them. spying without official acceptance.
However, the Islamic Republic has never endured a string of secret attacks like 2020. In January, an American drone attack killed the respected general Qassim Soleimani while leaving Baghdad airport (an attack facilitated by Israeli intelligence). officials say). And Iran was humiliated in August when an Israeli offensive squad killed a senior al-Qaeda leader in the streets of Tehran (officials, this time on the orders of the United States).
Bruce Reidel, a researcher at the Brookings Institution and a former Central Intelligence Agency official with experience in Israel, said that the most violent enemy of any country displayed a similar offensive capability with seemingly impunity on its territory.
“Unprecedented” he said. “And it shows no sign of an effective response by the Iranians.”
With the best nuclear scientists killed on Friday, Iranians are now grappling with a new sense of vulnerability, demands to purging suspected collaborators, and a painful debate over how to respond at a delicate moment.
Iran has endured devastating four years of economic sanctions under President Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign, and many Iranian leaders are desperately hoping for some relief from a Biden administration. The future president pledged to try to revive an expired agreement that lifted sanctions against Iran in exchange for halting nuclear research that could produce a weapon.
For pragmatic Iranians, this desire for a new beginning means that Mr. Trump’s last months in office has no time for the country to back down and risk a renewed cycle of hostility.
But at the same time, some Iranians openly acknowledge that their enemies in the US and Israel can take advantage of the present moment to attack Tehran further, squeezing their leaders between their internal demands for revenge and a pragmatic desire for better relations.
“Today is the most dangerous period for Iran, from Trump’s departure from the White House,” Mohammad-Hossein Khoshvaght, a former official of the Ministry of Culture and Guidance, said in a message on Twitter.
Retaliation against Israel or against Netanyahu’s main ally, the United States, would fall into the hands of Iran’s enemies trying to “create a difficult situation” in the region, so Mr. Biden cannot revive this nuclear deal, Mr. Khoshvaght added.
Some stern supporters argued that the murder of Mr. Fakhrizadeh demonstrated that Tehran should stop making a fresh start with Mr. Biden simply because it encouraged its enemies of restraint.
“If you don’t respond to this terrorism, they may repeat it because they know Iran will not react,” Conservative political analyst Foad Izadi said in an interview from Tehran. Said.
“There’s clearly a problem when you see these kinds of things repeat.”
Highlighting the importance of Mr. Fakhrizadeh, despite being anonymous before in Iran, the authorities announced on Saturday that he was planning to give him the burial of a national hero in one of the country’s most sacred shrines.
Videos of a senior cleric presiding the judiciary, covered with the Iranian flag and open-faced praying with the scientist’s family, is an extraordinary and inexplicable deviation from the Islamic tradition of wrapping the dead in a white cloth from head to toe.
For decades, Israel has adopted a strategy of targeted assassinations in an attempt to slow potential progress towards developing nuclear weapons among enemy neighbors. Historians say the Israeli intelligence agencies were linked to the murder of scientists working for Egypt in the 1960s and for Iraq in the 1970s for the same reason.
Iran first accused Israel of murdering one of its scientists when it was left dead in its laboratory following a poisoning in 2007, and a series of more violent attacks on Iranian scientists between 2010 and 2012 were also attributed to Israel.
In one, a bomb on a parked motorcycle blew up a particle physicist while knocked down a garage door at his home in Tehran. In the other three, motorcyclists hurried past the moving cars of the other three scientists, dropping magnetic bombs on the doors of their cars, killing two and injuring a third. And in a fifth attack, gunmen on motorcycles shot a scientist while he stopped his car while he was sitting next to his wife at a traffic light.
Mr. Riedel of the Brookings Institution said that Israel alone developed a successful track record against Iran, concentrating considerable resources of spy organizations on its worst enemy, in part.
He said that Israel has carefully developed ties with Iran’s neighboring countries, especially Baku, Azerbaijan as “platforms” for surveillance and recruitment. His recent conflict with Armenia highlighted the drones and other weapons Israel provided to Azerbaijan as part of this relationship.
Israel has practiced bringing Persian speakers among Iranian immigrants to Israel to contact or analyze intercepted communications, and Israel has also succeeded in recruiting a number of Iranian collaborators.
Now, Mr. Riedel argued that the attack on Mr. Fakhrizadeh could be an indication that Israel intends to reuse this network for similar tasks. After eight years of “hiatus” since the killing wave from 2010 to 2012, “I think this is a sign that the game is going on or is coming.” Said.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss secret operations, a senior Israeli official has been busy tracking down Mr. Fakhrizadeh on behalf of Israel for years, saying he will continue to act against Iran’s nuclear program when necessary. He stressed that Iran’s nuclear weapons aspirations, backed by Fakhrizadeh, pose a threat that the world should thank Israel for.
Murder in Iran raised new demands to eliminate such spies, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s greatest leader.
In his first reaction to the murder, Mr. Khamenei explained that the first priority was “to investigate this crime and to punish its perpetrators”.
Tough cops blamed Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani administration – a pragmatist who made a heavy bet on negotiations with Washington – for security failures that allowed the attack.
“The night is long and we are awake,” said Hossein Dehghan, the recently announced candidate in next year’s presidential election, the senior commander of the Revolutionary Guards and defense adviser to Mr. Khamenei.
“We will regret it like thunder on those responsible for the murder of this martyr,” he said in a message on Twitter.
In a televised address, Rouhani suggested that Iran will pursue what its critics call “strategic patience” or what its critics call waiting for Mr. Biden.
“We will reply at the right time,” said Mr. Rouhani. “All enemies should know that the great Iranian people are more courageous and honorable in order not to respond to this criminal act.”
But analysts said in Iranian politics, the aggressors made the most political gains. Sanam Vakil of Chatham House in London said any renewed conflict with Israel strengthened their case against negotiation with its allies in the West.
Since Ms. Vakil won the November elections, stern supporters said that they have begun to pressure Mr. Rouhani to postpone any negotiations with the new American administration for as long as possible, as the conflict with Washington strengthened its attractiveness and was further weakened. The pragmatic factions in the Iranian elections are coming next year.
“So such an incident is playing in the hands of the bullies,” he said, “because they can continue negotiations until after the Iranian elections – and they are shooting for it.”