TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – A senior Iranian security official on Monday accused Israel of using “electronic devices” to remotely kill a scientist who founded the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program in the 2000s.
Ali Shamhani, secretary of the country’s Supreme National Security Council, commented at the funeral of Mohsen Fahrizadeh, where Iran’s defense minister individually promised to continue the man’s work “with greater speed and more force”.
Israel, long suspected of killing Iranian nuclear scientists over the past decade, has repeatedly declined to comment on the attack.
Fahrizade is heading Iran̵
Israel insists Iran still maintains its ambition to develop nuclear weapons, citing Tehran’s ballistic missile program and research into other technologies. Iran has long claimed that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Shamhani’s remarks drastically change the story of Fahrizade’s murder on Friday. Authorities initially said a truck exploded, and then gunmen opened fire on the scientist, killing him and a bodyguard. State television even interviewed a man on the night of the attack who described seeing armed men open fire.
The English-language operator of the state-run Press TV said earlier Monday that a weapon removed from the scene of the attack bore the “logo and specifications of the Israeli military industry.” The Arabic language state television, Al-Alam, said the weapons used were “satellite-controlled,” according to a statement made by the semi-official Fars news agency on Sunday.
None of the outlets immediately offered evidence to support their allegations, which also give authorities a way to explain why no one was arrested at the scene.
“Unfortunately, the operation was a very complex operation and was performed with the help of electronic devices,” Shamhani told state television. “No one was present on the site.”
Satellite weapon control is nothing new. For example, long-range armed drones rely on satellite links to be controlled by their remote pilots. Remotely controlled turrets also exist, but usually see their operator connected to a hard line to reduce the delay in transmitted commands. Israel uses such cable systems along the border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Although technically feasible, it was unclear whether such a system had been used before, said Jeremy Beanie, editor of Jane’s Defense Weekly’s Middle East.
“Could you set up a weapon with a camera that then has a channel that uses an open satellite communication line back to the controller?” Beanie said. “I can’t understand why that’s not possible.”
He also raised the question of whether the truck that exploded during the attack then exploded in an attempt to destroy a satellite-controlled machine gun that was hidden in the vehicle. Iranian authorities did not immediately acknowledge this. In addition, someone will need to put the weapon on the ground.
Shamhani also accused the Iranian exile group Mujahideen-e-Halk of “having a role to play”, without elaborating. MEK, as the group of exiles is known, has been suspected of aiding Israeli operations in Iran in the past. MEK spokesman Shahin Gobadi dismissed Shamhani’s remarks as “anger, malice and lies” sparked by the group’s earlier remarks about Iran’s nuclear program.
Fahrizadeh’s service took place on Monday in an open section of Iran’s defense ministry in Tehran, with officers including Revolutionary Guards Chief General Hossein Salami, Guards Quds leader General Esmail Gaani, and civilian nuclear chief Ali Ayeh Akbar. Minister of Intelligence Mamoud Alavi. They sat apart and wore masks because of the coronavirus pandemic, while reciters melodically read passages from the Qur’an and religious texts.
Defense Minister Amir Khatami delivered a speech after kissing Fahrizade’s coffin and placing his forehead against it. He said Fahrizade’s assassination would make Iranians “more united, more determined”.
“To continue your journey, we will continue with more speed and more power,” Khatami said in comments broadcast live on state television.
Khatami also criticized countries that had not condemned Fahrizade’s assassination and warned: “This will catch up with you one day.”
During the night, the United Arab Emirates, which had just reached a normalization agreement with Israel, issued a statement condemning the “disgusting murder”. The UAE, where Abu Dhabi and Dubai are located, warned that the killing “could further escalate the conflict in the region”.
Last year, the UAE found itself in the middle of an escalating series of incidents between Iran and the United States. Although they have long been suspicious of Iran’s nuclear program, the Emirates has said it wants to de-escalate the crisis. The UAE has just started passenger air transport to Israel, and Israelis are expected to rest in the country over Hanukkah in the coming days.
Meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Minister Alon Ushpiz sent a message to all Israeli diplomatic delegations around the world, urging diplomats to maintain “the highest level of readiness and awareness of any irregular activity” around missions and Jewish community centers.
Jewish media in Israel report that after Fahrizade’s assassination, the foreign ministry has ordered increased security in some Israeli diplomatic missions abroad. The ministry declined to comment on issues related to diplomatic security.
Gambrel reports from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writer Ilan Ben Zion writes in Jerusalem.