December 1, 2020

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh Killed

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“An Iranian scientist long suspected by the West of masterminding a secret nuclear bomb programme was killed in an ambush near Tehran on Friday.” Reuters

“A top Iranian security official on Monday accused Israel of using ‘electronic devices’ to remotely kill a scientist who founded the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program in the 2000s… Israel, long suspected of killing Iranian nuclear scientists over the last decade, has repeatedly declined to comment on the attack.” AP News

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From the Left

The left is generally critical of the assassination, arguing in favor of diplomatic solutions.

“Israel never carries out such brazen acts without the explicit sanction and knowledge of its American partners. So the Trump administration must have certainly known about the assassination in advance…

“What the last four years of [the] Trump presidency have demonstrated—in large part building on the expansion of executive powers overseen by President Obama—is a dangerous American penchant for conducting extrajudicial killings of foreign officials and citizens. In the last decade, extrajudicial assassinations have become a central implement of the American foreign-policy agenda—a remarkably perilous norm…

“If the United States continues to behave unlawfully on the international stage, it is only a matter of time before other countries begin to emulate this behavior. And why would they not, when the supposed beacons of democracy themselves flagrantly transgress the norms that they expect others to abide by?”
Keyvan Shafiei, American Prospect

“By all accounts, while Iran retains some institutional knowledge about warheads and other weapons systems—knowledge that will survive the killing of one man like Fakhrizadeh—its military ambitions were successfully hemmed in for a few years by the JCPOA. While Iran now retains more low enriched uranium than permitted under the JCPOA, there’s been almost no reporting to indicate that it has resumed nuclear weapons research…

“The establishment, and particularly conservative, media has largely ignored this fact, instead presenting Iran as on the verge of deploying nuclear weapons and contributing to regional proliferation—unlike Israel, which has dozens of unacknowledged nuclear weapons that could reach Iran…

“Like the deservedly mocked Friedman Unit, which described U.S. success in Iraq as always six months away, Western hawks see Iran as ever on the verge of deploying a weapon it seems to have little interest in developing… The assassination of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh is a reminder of how badly the U.S. needs a new approach to Iran. Is Biden up to the task?
Jacob Silverman, New Republic

“The assassination of Fakhrizadeh was quite likely not just a crime but also an attempt to humiliate Biden himself… Biden’s first and most important task upon assuming office will be to defuse this crisis. To do so, he’ll have to move beyond the safe zone of simply reiterating a desire to resume the nuclear deal with Iran…

“Rather, Biden will have to make a bolder call condemning those who tried to sabotage his foreign policy. If the evidence points in that direction, this will include calling out Israel and possible accomplices like Saudi Arabia. This will be a hard task, but it is absolutely essential, and not just for the sake of Iran policy. If Biden is going to have any success as president, he has to show he’s willing to fight those who are trying to undermine him.”
Jeet Heer, The Nation

Some argue that “There has been a great deal of speculation that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the killing to sabotage attempts by the Biden administration to reconstitute the Obama-era nuclear deal that he loathes… Maybe so, but an earlier round of killings of Iranian nuclear scientists — four dead and one wounded between 2010 and 2012 — helped make a diplomatic solution more, not less, likely…

“If recent history has taught us anything, it is that Iran can keep developing nuclear weapons no matter how many of its scientists are killed by assassins, how many of its centrifuges are felled by cyberattacks, or how much of its economy is damaged by sanctions. Since Trump foolishly pulled out of the nuclear deal in 2018 despite Tehran’s compliance, Iran has increased its uranium stockpile eightfold… The only way to stop the Iranian nuclear program is through a new nuclear deal. For the sake of Israel, the United States and the entire world, let us hope that Fakhrizadeh’s death makes a diplomatic breakthrough more, not less, likely.”
Max Boot, Washington Post

“Yes, Israel and the Sunni Arab states want to make sure that Iran can never develop a nuclear weapon. But some Israeli military experts will tell you today that the prospect of Iran having a nuke is not what keeps them up at night — because they don’t see Tehran using it. That would be suicide and Iran’s clerical leaders are not suicidal. They are, though, homicidal. And Iran’s new preferred weapons for homicide are the precision-guided missiles

“That is why Israel has been fighting a shadow war with Iran for the past five years to prevent Tehran from reaching its goal of virtually encircling Israel with proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Gaza, all armed with precision-guided missiles. The Saudis have been trying to do the same versus Iran’s proxies in Yemen… If Biden tries to just resume the Iran nuclear deal as it was — and gives up the leverage of extreme economic sanctions on Iran, before reaching some understanding on its export of precision-guided missiles — I suspect that he’ll meet a lot of resistance from Israel, the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia.”
Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times

From the Right

The right praises the assassination, arguing that Iran must be met from a position of strength.

The right praises the assassination, arguing that Iran must be met from a position of strength.

“It’s true that there are hardliners in Iran who oppose negotiating with the Great Satan and more pragmatic types who favor ‘diplomacy’ as a way to get the U.S. sanctions lifted. Some claim the Fakhrizadeh assassination gives the hardliners the upper hand. But probably not; decision-making ultimately rests with Ayatollah Khamenei, and if he sees negotiations with Biden as offering the best hope to rescue Iran from its economic plight and get funds flowing again for ‘exporting the revolution,’ the assassination isn’t likely to stop him…

“More plausible is that the timing has to do with Israel’s wanting to make the most of the highly pro-Israel, anti-mullahs Trump administration’s remaining time in office — and quite possibly, with the U.S. administration’s own desire to make the most of that time.”
P. David Hornik, PJ Media

“Last week the Times reported that [Trump] asked his national security team for options on attacking Iran’s enrichment facilities before Biden takes office but was talked out of it. Bombing Iran risks regional war, he was told… Iran hasn’t — yet — retaliated for the strike that killed Quds Force supremo Qassem Soleimani early this year. Trump and Netanyahu may have looked at that and reasoned that they could get away with targeting Fakhrizadeh as well, knowing that even if Iran does respond (the anniversary of Soleimani’s death is approaching and U.S. officials are reportedly anxious about it) it probably won’t be on a scale that guarantees war. Maybe taking out the Iranian nuclear brain trust is what the U.S. and Israel have settled on in lieu of bombing…

“With Biden about to take office, it’s arguably in Iran’s interest not to respond to today’s assassination and hope for a more conciliatory White House on January 20. But there’s only so much Biden will be able to do for them, at least initially. He won’t want to look weak right out of the gate; even if he approaches Iran about reinstating the nuclear deal, they may demand concessions that he’s unable to make, like ‘compensating’ them for all of the damage to their economy inflicted by Trump’s sanctions…

“Plus, even if Iran would ideally prefer not to respond to U.S./Israeli operations like Fakhrizadeh’s assassination, at a certain point the need to save face internationally will usurp their patience. They’ve now lost two hugely important military figures in less than a year and imposed no penalty on the people responsible.”
Allahpundit, Hot Air

“The Iranians have, in the past, chosen to play down the importance (and therefore the success) of these killings. Here they’re doing the opposite — and it’s a very tricky situation for them…

“It’s not just that the regime has allowed several of its scientists to get killed, it’s that they’ve been killed in such similar ways: in their cars on the street; with magnetic bombs slapped on by passing motorcyclists; by gunshots or now, possibly, a combination of both. If I were an Iranian nuclear scientist, I’d be asking a simple question: if you can’t protect Fakhrizadeh how are you going to protect me?…

“Some say that Israel may have struck now as it had a final window under Trump. Biden, it is thought, might not be so accommodating to this sort of stuff. I’m not so sure. Israel would almost certainly seek a US greenlight to kill a major politician or general. That’s not so for almost anonymous nuclear scientists. Rather, it seems to me that someone somewhere has relayed a simple message: administrations may change, security concerns do not.”
David Patrikarakos, Spectator USA

“The killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh should be a message to Joe Biden and his nascent administration. Even as Iranian intelligence has pushed aggressively to expand its external influence via regional proxies, its domestic counterintelligence capabilities have significantly weakened. This is only the latest in a series of attacks that underscore the extent to which foreign intelligence services have been able to penetrate the country

“This comes two weeks after intelligence leaks showed a top al Qaeda leader, who had been enjoying sanctuary in Tehran since the destruction of al Qaeda’s headquarters in Afghanistan nearly two decades ago, had been killed by Israeli operatives in an operation that was outsourced by U.S. intelligence. Earlier in the summer, Iran was rocked by a wave of unexplained explosions around the country, hitting at least one nuclear site… Mr. Biden should factor in this weakness as he prepares to negotiate with Tehran.”
Kamran Bokhari, Wall Street Journal

“The evident huge increase in Mossad operations inside Iran isn’t only a byproduct of President Trump’s sympathy. It is an early sign of a new post-American order. Mr. Biden and his officials may try to twist Jerusalem’s arm to go easier on Iran. Good luck. The president-elect’s looming defense cuts will be more telling. The Middle East is all about power politics, and Mossad has begun to show what a committed First World intelligence service can do against a Third World Islamist state whose own security apparatus is increasingly decrepit.”
Reuel Marc Gerecht, Wall Street Journal

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