Raid alone was enough. A team of Israeli commandos with high-powered torches exploded in the vault of a deep-security warehouse in Iran and closed with 5,000 pages before dawn. Top secret letter On the country’s nuclear program.
Then in a television broadcast a few weeks later, in April 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alluded to equally bold operations, citing the contents of the pilot’s documents. “Remember that name,” he said, as scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh attempted to assemble a nuclear weapon as Iran’s secret captain.
Now Mr. Fakhrizade has become the latest casualty in a campaign of audacious covert attacks designed to torment Iranian leaders, along with a reminder of his infirmity. Operation Tehran faced rapid-vengeance to embrace the demands of hard-liners or President-Elect Joseph R.B. Junior’s short-lived hostilities are accompanied by a furious choice between attempts to make a fresh start.
Trained by a load of bodyguards, Mr Fakhrizade was carefully conducting a circuitous route to his in-laws’ home in the Iranian city of Eberd, according to witnesses and Iranian news media.
An empty Nissan parked on a roundabout, knocking down a power line. According to a detailed description posted online by filmmaker Jawad Mogoi, a documentary from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, gunmen leap from a steep Hyundai Santa Fe, others arrive on motorcycles and snipers hit a hit team of 12 assassins .
Mr. Fakhrizadeh, killed by at least three bullets, collided with his car and began bleeding on the ground. The nearest medical clinic had lost power. Roadside cameras were disabled. All 12 murderers escaped fearlessly, and Mr. Fakhrizade was pronounced dead by the time a rescue helicopter was able to take him to the hospital in Tehran.
“It was like a Hollywood action film,” Mr. Mogoi wrote in his account.
It was the latest in a decade-long pattern of mysterious poisoning, car bombings, shootings, theft and sabotage that has plagued the Islamic Republic. Most have considered largely anonymous scientists or secret facilities linked to their nuclear program, and almost all American and Iranian officials have attributed both to Tehran’s great nemesis, Israel. Its officers – without formally accepting responsibility – are all openly disappointed at the repeated successes of their spies.
However, the Islamic Republic has never supported covert attacks to a large extent in 2020. In January, An American drone attack killed the revered general Qasim Sulemani As he was boarding a car from Baghdad Airport (facilitated by Israel’s intelligence department in an attack, officials say). And Iran was humiliated by an Israeli hit team in August Deadly shooting of a senior al-Qaeda leader on the streets of Tehran (This time at the behest of the United States, its officials have said).
Seldom has demonstrated a similar ability to attack any country with clarity within its fierce enemy territory, said Bruce Riedel, a Brookings Institution researcher and a former Central Intelligence Agency official with experience in Israel .
“It’s unprecedented,” he said. “And it shows no signs of being effectively countered by Iranians.”
With Friday’s assassination of its top nuclear scientist, Iranians are now battling with a renewed sense of vulnerability and seeking to purge suspected allies. Most of all, they are debating how to react in a delicate moment.
Iran has endured years of devastating economic sanctions under a campaign of President Trump’s “maximum pressure”, and many Iranian leaders are hoping for some measure of relief. President-elect Biden has promised to revive an agreement that could curb nuclear weapons in order to remove restrictions in exchange for stopping nuclear research.
For the pragmatic Iranians, this possibility is the time for Mr. Trump to back office in months without retracting anyone and maintaining at-risk hostility.
But Iranians also know that their enemies in the United States and Israel can take further advantage of this period and attack Tehran. It is a chance to squeeze its leaders amid domestic demands for revenge and a practical desire for better relations.
“From today until the Trump White House is the most dangerous period for Iran,” Mohammad-Hossein Khoshwaght, a former official in the Ministry of Culture and Guidance, wrote in a message on Twitter.
Retaliation against Israel or Mr. Netanyahu’s main ally, America, will play into Iran’s enemies in the region, Mr. Khoshwaghat argued. “To create a difficult situation”, the new administration cannot revive that nuclear deal, he said.
Iranian hard-liners argued that the killing of Mr. Fakhrizadeh proved that to make a fresh start with Mr. Biden was only to embrace the country’s enemies.
“If you do not react to this level of terrorism, they can repeat it because they now know that Iran will not react,” conservative political analyst Fad Izadi said in an interview to Tehran.
“When you see these kinds of things repeating there is clearly a problem.”
Underlining Mr. Fakhrizadeh’s stature, Iranian authorities on Saturday announced him plans to bury the national hero in one of the country’s holiest temples.
A video of a senior cleric was aired, praying with the family of the head of the judiciary in an Iranian flag over his body and his face open – one from the Islamic tradition of wrapping the dead in a white cloth from head to foot. Extraordinary and unexplained departure.
Israel has for decades adopted a targeted assassination strategy in an attempt to slow down potential progress towards the development of nuclear weapons among its hostile neighbors. Israeli intelligence agencies have been linked to the murders of scientists working for Egypt in the 1960s and Iraq in the 1970s for the same reasons, historians say.
Iran first accused Israel of killing one of its scientists when it died in its laboratory after a poison in 2007, and a large number of more violent attacks on Iranian scientists between 2010 and 2012 also hit Israel. Was held responsible.
In one, a bomb in a parked motorcycle blew up a physical physicist as he was lowering a garage door at his home in Tehran. Among three others, motorcyclists speeded up other scientists’ moving cars and hurled magnetic bombs at their car doors, killing two and injuring a third. And in a fifth attack, gunmen on a motorcycle dodged a scientist with bullets, while his car was stopped at a traffic light sitting near his wife.
Israel has developed a singularly successful track record by focusing primarily on Iran’s considerable resources of its espionage agencies, its largest nemesis, Mr. Riddell of the Brooding Institution, said.
He added that Israel has carefully cultivated relations with neighboring countries to Iran as “platforms” for surveillance and recruitment – most notably in Baku, Azerbaijan. Its recent conflict with Armenia has drawn attention to the drones and other weapons that Israel has presented to Azerbaijan as part of that relationship.
He said that Israel recruits native Persian speakers among Iranian immigrants to establish contacts or make contacts, and Israel managed to enlist a steady stream of Iranian allies.
Now, Mr. Riedel Argued, the attack on Mr. Fakhrizadeh could be an indication that Israel is planning other murders. After an eight-year “hiatus” since the wave of murders from 2010 to 2012, he said, “I think it’s a sign that the game is undone, or coming.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss clandestine operations, a senior Israeli official involved for years in tracking down Mr. Fakhrizade for Israel said it would continue to work against the Iranian nuclear program as needed. Iran’s aspirations to promote nuclear weapons by Mr. Fakhrizadeh pose a threat that the world should thank Israel, the official insisted.
In Iran, there has already been a new demand for assassination to root out such spies, including the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In his first public response to the murder, Ayatollah Khamenei declared that the first priority was “the investigation into this crime and the definitive punishment of its perpetrators.”
Hard-liners blamed the administration of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani – a pragmatic figure who had placed too many bets on negotiations with Washington – for security failures that allowed the attack.
“The night is long and we are awake,” said Hossein Dehgan, a recently announced candidate in next year’s presidential election who is a senior commander of the Revolutionary Guards and a defense adviser to Ayatollah Khamenei.
“We will come down like a thunderbolt on the heads of those responsible for killing this martyr and they will regret it,” he continued a message on Twitter.
Mr. Rouhani, for his part, suggested in a tavy speech that Iran would continue what it called a policy of “strategic patience” or what its critics say awaited Mr. Biden.
“We will respond at the right time,” Mr. Rouhani said. “All enemies should know that the great Iranian people are more courageous and respected for not responding to this criminal act.”
But within Iranian politics, analysts said, hard-liners stood to gain the most politically from the attack. Any renewed confrontation with Israel aggravated their case against negotiations with their allies in the West, said Sanam Vacill at Chatham House in London.
Since Mr. Biden won the election in November, hard-liners have begun pushing against Mr. Rouhani to postpone any sort of dialogue with the new US administration, Ms. Vakil said. The conflict with Washington strengthens their appeal and weakens the more pragmatic factions in next year’s Iranian election.
“So an incident like this plays into the hands of hard-liners,” he said, “because they can pull out the talks until after the Iranian election – and that’s what they’re raising guns for.”