Fakhrizadeh’s assassination: A critical success, but Israel must stop playing with fire

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The scene of the Israeli ambush on Fakhrizadeh, on a road outside Tehran. (Photo courtesy of AP/Washington Post).

 

Aaron Arnstein
Opinion Columnist
@AaronArnstein 

In late November, Israeli assassins dealt a huge blow to Iran’s nuclear capability with the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the mastermind behind Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Some would call it a smashing success, quite literally. But Israel must end its assault on Iranian scientists for the near future.

The Israeli intelligence team is no stranger to operations that target prominent Iranian scientists. The New York Times reported that Israel killed at least five Iranian scientists between 2007 and 2012 who were associated with the country’s nuclear development program. 

Fakhrizadeh’s assassination marked at least the fourth successful attack on a high-ranking Iranian in the past year. Iran has reached its boiling point, and will only remain silent for so much longer.

It is believed that up to a dozen attackers, along with an unmanned Nissan that contained an autonomous machine gun, sprayed bullets at Fakhrizadeh’s heavily-guarded S.U.V. on a rural road outside Tehran.

While many Israelis rejoiced, the news drew concern from politicians and foreign policy experts around the globe. 

According to The New York Times, Iranian armed forces chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, called Fakhrizadeh’s death “a bitter and heavy blow to the country’s defense system” and said there would be “severe revenge.” 

This was a dangerous, albeit necessary operation carried out by Israeli forces in order to diminish the Iranian threat towards Israel for the near future. 

And it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who labeled Fakhrizadeh as the country’s number one enemy, should personally benefit from the successful attack and is desperate for an increase in Israeli support with a potential election on the horizon. 

More importantly, the assassination also comes during a period where Iranian retaliation is unlikely, given the circumstances. Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official, told the Times that the attack showed “no sign of being effectively countered by the Iranians.” According to The Washington Post, Iran is dealing with economic sanctions, a heavy death toll from the coronavirus pandemic and political protests across the nation. Additionally, should Iran retaliate within the next few weeks, it would start on uneasy terms with the Biden administration. Even worse: the possibility of a counterattack by the Trump administration.

The worldwide concern over Fakhrizadeh’s assassination is a sign for Israel to temporarily stop the killing of Iranian scientists. Prime Minister Netanyahu believes without any limitations, Iran will be able to construct a nuclear bomb beginning in 2030. The threat of an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel within this decade is extremely unlikely, and Israel should be in no hurry to plan for another assassination attempt. The recent attack will only bring more tension to the Middle East and fuel Iranian anger towards Israel. It reinforces hardliners within the Iranian government to take stronger actions against Israel and in turn weakens the influence of moderates within parliament.

Furthermore, escalating tensions in the Middle East put the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, two Middle Eastern countries, in extremely vulnerable positions. Shortly after the attack, Israel’s foreign ministry warned of possible Iranian-backed attacks against its nationals in the UAE and Bahrain, among several other countries. Both of these nations have been thrust into a conflict they didn’t ask for, which could threaten their peace deals with Israel. 

The attack has implications on the U.S. as well. According to Al Jazeera, Iran believes the West is also behind Fakhrizadeh’s death. While speaking at an international forum in Rome, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif questioned the West’s support of Israel: “Why is the West supporting Israeli terrorism? Why is Israel committing acts of terror against Iran, including [killing] our nuclear scientist, without condemnation and consequences from the West?” President-elect Joe Biden has made it clear that he plans to bring back the Iran deal, but many wonder whether Iran will be willing to comply following Fakhrizadeh’s assassination. 

According to Foreign Minister Zarif, Iran remains committed to returning to the nuclear deal, but will not let the U.S. dictate terms of the agreement. The Biden administration may benefit from the attack as a result of the destabilization and dire economic situation Iran currently faces, only to worsen after the killing of Fakhrizadeh. If Iran were to rejoin the deal, sanctions would be lifted, which would be a much-needed boost to their struggling economy.

Israel has pressed its luck with Iran. For years, the Iranian-Israeli relationship has continued to deteriorate, and it is unlikely to change anytime soon. Escalating the situation would be detrimental to both sides. However, if Iran resists significant retaliation, then Israel’s daring act will have paid off, although it comes at the expense of burying Iran’s nuclear program further into secrecy.

For the protection of Israel, and the entirety of the Middle East, Israel must cease its attacks on Iranian soil for the near future. 

One more small attack on Iran poses one huge risk to Israel’s future.

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