The top Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was shot dead on Friday while traveling in Northern Iran. No one took responsibility for the killing, but both the Iranian government and many outside observers point to the likelihood of Israeli involvement, possibly with American assistance. As The New York Times ReportsAn American official – along with two other intelligence officials – said that Israel was behind the attack on the scientist. It was unclear how much the United States might have known in advance of the operation, but the two nations are closest allies and have long shared information about Iran. ”
In a statement on Saturday, President Hassan Rouhani accused Israel and swore vengeance. He also made an interesting page that implied that changes in American politics could be a factor. “This brutal assassination shows that our enemies are going through weeks of fear, weeks in which they feel that their era of pressure is coming to an end and that global conditions are changing,” said Rouhani said. The “fearful weeks” could be an indication of the transition between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. In this case, the “pressure era” is an allusion to the hostile policies of heightened sanctions and unconventional military attacks, known as “maximum pressure,” carried out by President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Biden has promised to resume the Iranian nuclear deal. It is difficult not to see the Fakhrizadeh assassination as part of a deliberate effort to make an approximation much more difficult. On November 17, more than a week before the murder, the Times reported“Even as a lame duck, President Trump is quick to tighten American sanctions against Iran and to sell advanced weapons to his regional enemies. This policy would be difficult to reverse for a new president. Last week he asked his advisers about options for a military strike against Iran, but it appears that it was advised against. His staff argued that an attack could quickly lead to a major war. “The assassination appears to be a way of achieving some of the objectives of the military strike that the military kept Trump from starting.
Diplomat Dennis Ross, who served under both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton spoke out against the idea that the murder was intended to destroy Biden’s diplomacy. tweet“One can discuss the logic of the Mohsen Fakhrizadeh murder. But to argue that it was done to frustrate the incoming Biden administration ignores reality. Such an operation requires extensive planning, with employees on the ground having actionable information. It can’t be spontaneous. ”
Ross is not very convincing. Of course, such an attack requires a lot of planning. However, the transition from a pre-existing plan to an actual operation can be made relatively quickly. It weighs on credibility to claim that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a long-time opponent of the Iranian nuclear deal, ignored Biden’s victory.
Netanyahu can read a calendar, and he knew time to restrict Biden was running out. The final weeks of Trump’s administration are crucial not only for Netanyahu but also for other opponents of the Iran deal, including allies like Saudi Arabia. Adequate coverage of High level communication between Trump’s White House and his counterparts in Israel and Saudi Arabia makes plausible the idea that a concerted effort will be made to create a crisis that will sabotage Biden’s diplomacy before it even begins. Pompeo recently visited Israel and gave the West Bank settlements a thumbs up. Is it possible that the trip was part of a hidden consideration that included the assassination of Fakhrizadeh? The president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is currently in the Middle East meeting with Saudi leaders. Again, the timing of the visit raises questions about possible secret deals.
Biden is now facing a real test. The assassination of Fakhrizadeh was most likely not only a crime but an attempt to humiliate Biden himself. The United States only has one president at a time, so Biden is unable to condemn the attack. Write in the TimesBarbara Slavin, Director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, written down that Biden and his team “cannot do much more than notify Iran through the media to remain patient until the inauguration on January 20 – and the Israelis to end their sabotage campaign”.
So far, the strongest words on the attack have come from Trump critics, who are far from being the official voices of the new president. Former CIA director John O. Brennan tweeted, “This was a criminal act and most inconsiderate. There is a risk of deadly retaliation and a new round of regional conflicts. Iranian leaders would be wise to wait for the return of responsible American leadership on the global stage and resist the urge to react against supposed culprits. “Representative Ilhan Omar quoted Brennan’s words and added“It is not a partisan question to speak out against violations of international law, but also not on the side of Iran.” It’s about keeping your balance and not putting the world in a more chaotic state than we already are. ”
It’s impossible to imagine Biden being as direct as Brennan or Omar. Indeed, there is evidence that Biden’s foreign policy team is indeed pulling back on its commitment to re-join the nuclear deal. To speak to TimesJake Sullivan, newly appointed Biden National Security Advisor, said The United States could revert to the agreement “if Iran returns to honor its commitments that it has violated and is ready to move forward in good faith negotiations on these follow-up agreements.” The stipulation that compliance should be reinforced through new negotiations appears to be a push for a tougher line than Biden’s previous position. It is not clear whether Iran would accept this reservation.
David Sanger from The New York Times sets out a plausible scenario where the assassination triggers a new cycle of violence:
The pressure for a response is already mounting – either a calculated, presumably on the orders of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, or an unwritten flogging, possibly by a rogue element of the Iranian military or an Iranian-sponsored militia that doesn’t leave that Memo waiting for inauguration day.
That is exactly what Mr Netanyahu – and Mr Trump and his advisors – are betting on. Any retaliation could lead to American military action, exactly what Mr Trump contemplated and rejected two weeks ago when news broke that Iran was continuing to produce nuclear fuel beyond the limits of the 2015 agreement. (This move, of course, was in response to Mr Trump’s decision in mid-2018 to break out of the deal himself.)
If Sanger is right, Biden’s first and foremost task when he takes office will be to defuse this crisis. To do this, he must go beyond the safe zone and simply repeat the wish to resume the nuclear deal with Iran. Rather, Biden needs to be more courageous in calling and condemning those who have tried to sabotage his foreign policy. If the evidence points in this direction, it will include the proclamation of Israel and possible accomplices like Saudi Arabia. This will be a difficult task, but it is absolutely necessary, and not just in the interests of Iranian politics. If Biden is to succeed as president, he must show that he is ready to fight those who try to undermine him.