Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a senior Iranian nuclear physicist whom Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had named as the head of an alleged Iranian programme to build a nuclear bomb, was assassinated by gunmen on Friday in an attack in the town of Absard, about 175 km east of Tehran. Iranian officials have threatened to retaliate for the murder.
The assassination of Imam Hussein University professor and senior Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi was the “highpoint” of a long-running “Israeli strategic plan” aimed at sabotaging Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons programme, and deprived Tehran “of an irreplaceable source of knowledge”, The Times of Israel has reported, citing local Hebrew-language media.
According to the outlet, one anonymous Western intelligence source speaking to Channel 12 described Fakhrizadeh’s murder as the “pinnacle” of Tel Aviv’s long-term efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. “This is a diminution in knowledge that is irreplaceable,” the official was quoted as saying.
Channel 13 reportedly indicated that the scientist had been a “target” of multiple Israeli prime ministers, and several different directors of the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency responsible for intelligence collection and covert operations, including assassinations and sabotage abroad.
The Jerusalem Post compared Fakhrizadeh’s murder to the 1985 mafia killing of New York Gambino crime family boss Paul Castellano, suggesting the assassination showed “the power of those responsible” and that “any Iranian linked to the nuclear programme can be found and killed”.
Prime Minister Netanyahu singled out Fakhrizadeh in an intelligence presentation in 2018, urging the international community to “remember that name”, and alleging that the scientist was the head of an Iranian programme aimed at building a nuclear bomb in secret.
Israel has yet to present any substantive evidence of a covert Iranian nuclear weapons programme, with the International Atomic Energy Agency finding no evidence of any effort to build a bomb after 2003. Iranian leaders have consistently denied any intention to build nuclear weapons, or weapons of mass destruction of any kind, and Tehran previously dismantled its chemical weapons stocks in the 1990s before joining the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Officials have also regularly attacked Israel and the United States for ‘lecturing’ Iran on nuclear non-proliferation while themselves possessing large nuclear arsenals.
Iran Threatens Revenge
Fakhrizadeh’s assassination sparked a major escalation of tensions in the Middle East, with Tehran vowing revenge and senior officials including President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accusing Israel.
On Saturday, Iran sent a letter to the United Nations where it alleged that there were “serious indications of Israeli responsibility” for the killing, and urged the Security Council and the body’s secretary general to unequivocally condemn the killing. The UN responded by urging “restraint” and avoiding “any actions that could lead to an escalation of tensions”.
The Islamic Republic has yet to present its evidence of Israeli involvement in the scientist’s murder, and Israeli officials have made no official comment.
In the meantime, Israeli media have reported that its embassies around the world have been put “on high alert” in the wake of the assassination.
The Times of Israel believes several other options for Iranian ‘retaliation’ are possible, including a major missile attack, a ramping up of Iran’s nuclear program, and attacks on Tel Aviv via ‘Iranian proxies’ in Gaza, Syria and Lebanon.