An Iranian scientist named by the West as the leader of the Islamic Republic’s disbanded military nuclear program was killed Friday in an ambush on the outskirts of Tehran, authorities said. Iran’s foreign minister alleged the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh bore “serious indications” of an Israeli role, but did not elaborate. Israel, long suspected of killing several Iranian nuclear scientists a decade ago, declined to immediately comment. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once told the public to “remember that name” when talking about Fakhrizadeh.
An opinion piece published Sunday by a hard-line Iranian newspaper urged Iran to attack the Israeli port city of Haifa if Israel carried out the killing of the scientist who founded the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program in the early 2000s. Though the hard-line Kayhan newspaper has long argued for aggressive retaliation for operations targeting Iran, Sunday’s opinion piece went further, suggesting any assault be carried out in a way that destroys facilities and “also causes heavy human casualties.”
Friday’s killing of one of Iran’s most important nuclear scientists has dealt a setback to the country’s nuclear program, which had staged a partial rebound after the 2015 nuclear deal brokered under President Obama unraveled. Yet, the U.S. and its allies still face major hurdles in trying to constrain Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, current and former officials said. The challenge is likely to be particularly acute for President-elect Joe Biden, who is planning to engage Iran diplomatically in the hope of negotiating restoring and building on the 2015 deal.
UANI IN THE NEWS
Since its inception, the Islamic Republic has treated dual-citizens and foreign nationals as bargaining chips in its negotiations with the West, imprisoning individuals on spurious charges while using their detainment as diplomatic leverage, writes United Against Nuclear Iran. Tehran refuses to recognise dual citizenship, acknowledging instead only the Iranian identity of the individuals in question. As such, dual-citizens are regularly denied consular assistance from their alternative home nation. In reality, the Iranian regime is not blind to dual-citizenship at all.
…Jason Brodsky, policy director for United Against Nuclear Iran, told The Media Line the killing may have an effect on Iranian domestic politics. “As it relates to efforts to revive the nuclear deal, this may weaken Rouhani, who already has diminished standing in the last months of his presidency. But it doesn’t necessarily shut the door to future negotiations completely,” he explained. Rouhani cannot run for a third term in next year’s presidential election, due to be held in about seven months, as he is currently serving the second of the maximum two consecutive mandates.
The incoming administration of President-elect Biden has stirred up conversations across the Middle East about America’s future policy toward Iran. It’s no surprise that the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is at the center of these discussions. What is surprising is that Arabs and Israelis are now using the pronoun “we” to express their concerns about Iran. Hopefully, the incoming Biden administration will take note of this dramatic shift, and listen to America’s key allies in the region.
Last week, the Navy of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG) unveiled a brand-new, ocean-faring, weapons-laden warship, named Shahid Roudaki after a slain naval commander. Apparently, however, that ship is a reconverted Italian-built cargo, Altinia (aka Galaxy F), launched in 1992 and sold off last year to an Italian shipyard, Giovanni Visentini Trasporti Fluviomarittimi, for $2 million. After a few flag changes, Altinia ended up in the Iranian seaport of Bandar Abbas. The stark resemblance to the original cargo version was spotted by several outlets specialising in defence, as well as the eagle-eyed Jeremy Binnie, journalist at Jane’s Defence Weekly.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
A 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers is being eroded and efforts to revive the pact face a new challenge with the killing of Tehran’s top nuclear scientist. The accord’s restrictions on Iran’s atomic work had one objective: to extend the “breakout time” for Tehran to produce enough fissile material for a bomb, if it decided to make one, to at least a year from about two to three months. Iran maintains that it has never sought nuclear weapons and never would. It says its nuclear work only has civilian aims.
TERRORISM & EXTREMISM
An Iranian diplomat suspected of masterminding a thwarted, state-sponsored bomb attack against an exiled Iranian opposition group in France did not show up at a courthouse in Belgium on the opening day of his trial on terror charges Friday, invoking his diplomatic immunity. More than two years after the cross-border police operation that foiled the plot, Assadollah Assadi and three other suspects face up to 20 years in prison on charges of “attempted terrorist murder and participation in the activities of a terrorist group.”
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iran released a British-Australian scholar, Kylie Moore-Gilbert, detained since 2018 on charges of spying for Israel, in a prisoner swap conducted Wednesday for three Iranian men described by Iran’s official media as businessmen who had been held abroad. Iran did not reveal the identities of the three citizens it said had been swapped for Ms. Moore-Gilbert nor the identity of the country or countries where they had been held. But social media channels affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in Iran identified the three as Saeed Moradi, Mohammad Khazaei and Masoud Sedaghat Zadeh.
Iran is intensifying its campaign of harassment against its Baha’i religious minority, carrying out what appears to be one of the largest coordinated raids of Baha’i homes in the Islamist-ruled country this year, according to knowledgeable sources. Iran-based Baha’i sources told VOA's Persian Service that security forces raided the homes of around 50 Baha’i families on Sunday. They said the raids happened in different regions of the country, including the northern cities of Tehran, Karaj and Shahriar, the northern province of Mazandaran and the central province of Isfahan.
A leading human rights group and the Swedish government are demanding Iran halt the imminent execution of an Iranian-Swedish scientist. Ahmadreza Djalali is now in solitary confinement in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison and has been told by prosecutors he will be put to death within a week, Amnesty International said in a statement on Tuesday. The London-based organization’s deputy director for the Middle East said the decision constitutes a human rights violation.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The Democratic establishment will soon be back in charge of U.S. foreign policy, and the question is how much they’ve learned in exile. One early test will be Iran, and whether Joe Biden will abandon the strategic gains that President Trump has made in the Middle East in a rush to return to the deeply flawed 2015 nuclear deal. The apparent assassination of a top Iranian nuclear scientist near Tehran on Friday shows that Iran’s nuclear program remains a global security problem. No one took responsibility, but any number of countries have reason to act now in case the Biden Administration returns to a policy of appeasing Iran.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Iran’s foreign minister said Iran’s arch-enemy Israel was likely to have been involved in the killing of prominent Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh on Friday, although he offered no evidence. “This cowardice - with serious indications of Israeli role -shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators,” Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted. “Iran calls on int’l community - and especially EU - to end their shameful double standards & condemn this act of state terror.”
IRAQ & IRAN
A rocket hit a small oil refinery in northern Iraq on Sunday, causing a fire at a fuel storage tank and forcing a complete shutdown of operations after the blaze spread to a nearby pipeline network, two refinery officials said. The ISIS extremist group claimed responsibility for attacking the Siniya refinery, in a statement posted on the group’s official channel.
Dozens of men belonging to an Iran-backed militia raided a massage parlor in an upscale neighborhood in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on Thursday evening, assaulting its female employees before setting the facility on fire, according to officials and footage of the incident published online. In a security camera video circulating widely in Iraqi local media, several baton-wielding men could be seen forcibly dragging out two barefoot women who were reportedly working at the facility known as Shilan Massage Center.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Iran’s leaders threatened on Saturday to retaliate over the assassination of the country’s top nuclear scientist, blaming Israel and pledging to continue the work of the man who American and Israeli officials believe was the architect of what they call the country’s secretive nuclear weapons program. But Germany, a key U.S. ally in Europe, urged all sides not to allow the last weeks of the Trump administration to obliterate hopes for fresh negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. The comments followed the assassination on Friday of the scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, outside the Iranian capital, Tehran.