PoliticsForeign Policy


Iran Mourns Assassinated Nuclear Scientist And Vows To Chase Killers

Iran blamed Israel, and escalations could complicate President-elect Joe Biden’s goal of rejoining the nuclear agreement with Tehran.
Posted at 6:13 PM, Nov 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-30 18:13:01-05

At a funeral filled with mourners in masks, Iran’s defense minister vowed Monday to “chase the criminals” who brazenly assassinated nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. 

Experts say that could put the U.S. and allies at risk.

"They might try to target Israeli officials. They might try to target even U.S. officials or service members. People in Iraq would be the easiest targets for them to try to reach," Tom Warrick, former deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism policy at the Department of Homeland Security, tells Newsy.

Iran blames Israel for the Friday ambush, saying it used “electronic devices” to remotely kill the scientist — who has long been considered the father of the country’s covert nuclear weapons program. Initial reports in state media claimed Fakhrizadeh was fatally shot after a truck explosion.

"Whoever carried it out probably either had or thought they had a green light from Washington," Warrick, now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, says. "If anybody had sought permission from a Biden administration, it almost certainly would never have happened."

Neither Jerusalem nor Washington has publicly responded. But the assassination could complicate President-elect Joe Biden’s goal of rejoining the nuclear agreement with Iran, which President Donald Trump exited in 2018. 

A former adviser to Israeli leaders tells Newsy the attack might have been carried out for that very reason.

"The prime minister has been dead against the whole deal, going back to the old deal, which he considers to be a historic error," says Chuck Freilich, former deputy national security adviser to Israeli Prime Ministers Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, and Ehud Olmert. "He considers the deal in the end, an existential threat to Israel."

Tehran claims its nuclear efforts are peaceful, for energy purposes. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei now saying the late scientist’s work should be carried on. 

The country lost another prized Iranian earlier this year, after a U.S. airstrike killed top general Qassem Soleimani in January. Monday’s funeral comes as Biden receives his first President’s Daily Brief, where intelligence on Iran is sure to be high on the list. 

"Trump did succeed in generating significant leverage over Iran. To squander that completely would be a shame."