The Jewish state may fear the Biden administration will urge an end to such Israeli strikes
By Fred Fleitz | Fox News
The announcement by Iranian state TV that Mohsen Fakhrizadeh — the father of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear weapons program and its top nuclear scientist — was shot and killed Friday in Tehran is a huge setback for Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted: “Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today. This cowardice—with serious indications of Israeli role—shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators.”
At least five Iranian nuclear scientists were killed between 2010 and 2012. Iran blamed Israel for all these killings.
If it turns out that Israel is behind the killing of Fakhrizadeh, the strike may reflect the Jewish state’s worry about a major shift in U.S. policy toward Iran under the administration of Joe Biden when he becomes president Jan. 20 (barring a reversal of the election outcome that President Trump is seeking).
Given the obsession by Democrats to rebuke President Trump and rejoin the Iran nuclear deal and Iran’s stated refusal to reopen the agreement for renegotiation, it is likely the U.S. will quickly rejoin the agreement and drop U.S. sanctions on Iran after Biden takes office.
Israel knows such a development would be a huge boon to Iran’s military and nuclear programs and likely also would embolden Iran to step up its meddling in regional conflicts and sponsorship of terrorism.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have concluded that the threat from Iran’s nuclear weapons program was becoming too dangerous and Israel therefore had to take action to deny Iran the benefit of Fakhrizadeh’s expertise in constructing a nuclear weapon. Israel may also have wanted to deter other Iranians from working on this effort.
Israeli officials remember that President Barack Obama’s administration pressed their nation hard in 2014 to stop assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists and to not attack Iran’s nuclear facilities while the Obama administration was engaged in diplomacy that amounted to appeasement of Iran.
The Jewish state may have staged the killing of Fakhrizadeh now in the belief that a Biden administration will begin a new round of Iran appeasement and again press Israel not to take provocative actions against Iran’s dangerous nuclear program.
Israel reportedly recently put its military on alert because of the possibility that President Trump may order an attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities before he leaves office.
I believe Trump may have considered such an attack but will not order one, because of his commitment not to start unnecessary wars. It is more likely that Israel put its military on alert due to actions it was planning against Iran’s nuclear program — like the Fakhrizadeh assassination — in anticipation of Iranian blowback.
Fakhrizadeh was a nuclear physicist and head of Iran’s Physics Research Center. He oversaw the Amad Plan — Iran’s secret research program to develop nuclear weapons.
The Amad Plan was started in the late 1990s or the early 2000s. It included a nuclear warhead design program, modification of a Shahab missile to carry a nuclear warhead, and aid to Iran’s nuclear program from the Pakistan-based A.Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network and from a former Russian nuclear scientist.
According to the Iran Nuclear Archive documents that were stolen in a daring raid by Israeli intelligence in 2018, an infrastructure was in place under the Amad Plan by 2003 for a comprehensive Iranian nuclear weapons program. The program was scaled-back in 2003 into a secretive and highly compartmented program.
According to Israel and the International Atomic Energy Agency, Fakhrizadeh continued to head the covert Iranian nuclear weapons program after 2003. The program was renamed the SPND (Sazman-e Pazhouhesh-haye Novin-e Defa’ei), which translates into English as the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research.
Iran engaged in extensive efforts to hide its nuclear weapons program and deceive the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors and the world about the Islamic Republic’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons after 2003.
For example, Iran reassigned nuclear-related projects from its military to the nation’s civilian nuclear agency, in an effort to make it appear these activities were part of a peaceful nuclear program.
Israel discovered “deception folders” in the Iran Nuclear Archive documents that recorded the lies Iran told to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors and helped Iranian officials keep their stories straight.
The United Nations Security Council imposed a travel ban and financial sanctions Fakhrizadeh and his fellow scientists for their nuclear weapons work in March 2007. These sanctions were terminated in January 2016 by the Iran nuclear deal. That agreement was signed in July 2015 by Iran, the U.S., the European Union, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany.
Based on the Iran Nuclear Archive documents, Iran’s cheating on the nuclear deal — formally titled the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — is now indisputable.
Moreover, since Iran ceased complying with all of its obligations under the agreement by early this year, it now has enough low-enriched uranium for two nuclear weapons (if further enriched to weapons-grade).
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The nuclear deal was supposed to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and was hailed as triumph by President Barack Obama and his administration. But according to the Iran Nuclear Archive, the SPND’s nuclear weapons work continued under Fakhrizadeh despite the nuclear deal.
President Trump wisely withdrew the U.S. from the nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed U.S. sanctions on Iran that had been lifted under the agreement.
“We cannot prevent an Iranian bomb under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement,” Trump said in May 2018. He called the agreement “a horrible, one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made.”
Fakhrizadeh death may be a blow not just to Iran but to North Korea as well, because he may have collaborated with North Korea’s ongoing nuclear weapons program. London’s Sunday Times reported in 2017 that he traveled to North Korea in February 2013 to observe the third North Korean nuclear test. There likely have been other interactions by North Korean and Iranian nuclear scientists that have not been made public.
Iranian leaders are clearly angry by the death of Fakhrizadeh. The New York Times reported that Michael P. Mulroy, the former top Middle East policy official in the Defense Department, said the death of Fakhrizadeh could spark an Iranian military response.
“He was their senior-most nuclear scientist and was believed to be responsible for Iran’s covert nuclear program,” Mulroy told the newspaper. “He was also a senior officer in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and that will magnify Iran’s desire to respond by force.”
Fred Fleitz, president of the Center for Security Policy, served in 2018 as deputy assistant to the president and to the chief of staff of the National Security Council. He previously held national-security jobs with the CIA, the DIA, the Department of State, and the House Intelligence Committee staff. Twitter @fredfleitz.