Four Ways the Killing of Iran’s Nuclear Scientist Will Undercut U.S. National Security

December 1, 2020

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
  • Military

Author: 

John Krzyzaniak

Publication: 

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Last Friday, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a leading Iranian nuclear scientist, was shot in broad daylight in Absard, 45 miles east of Tehran, on his way to visit his in-laws. It took only hours for Iranian officials to begin pointing the finger at Israel. That same day, Mohammad Javid Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, wrote on Twitter that the attack had “serious indications of [an] Israeli role.”

It is impossible to know for certain, but top US officials may have been aware about the operation in advance and might have even given their tacit or explicit approval. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had just met with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in Saudi Arabia a week earlier. And, just a few weeks before that November meeting, President Donald Trump reportedly sought options to strike at Iran’s nuclear program, though his senior advisers apparently dissuaded him.

At first, the Fakhrizadeh assassination may seem to bring security benefits to the United States and its partners. As Ariane Tabatabai, the Middle East fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, wrote in Foreign Policy, the killing exposes the weakness of Iran’s internal security and puts Tehran in a bind. Iran’s leadership will feel compelled to retaliate to avoid looking weak and to try and deter future attacks. However, if it does retaliate, it risks sparking a wider conflict, which Iran does not seek.

Despite this initial realpolitik appeal, however, over the longer term the killing will likely damage US interests in four ways.

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Read the full article at The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.