Mohsen Fahrizadeh, considered one of the leaders of Iran’s controversial nuclear program, was killed by shots and explosives while driving a vehicle east of Tehran.
Iran claims that Israel is behind the murder and called it an act of terrorism. Israel has not officially responded to the accusation.
The attack comes weeks after the International Atomic Energy Agency, the best nuclear observer, said Iran now has 12 times the amount of enriched uranium allowed under the 2015 nuclear deal.
A challenge for Biden
“I think there is no doubt that Israel did it,” said Simon Henderson, a Baker aide at the Washington Institute and a specialist on Iran’s nuclear program. “If you are Israel, you want to take the program back months, if not years.”
“You’re also trying to get away with something now that you probably couldn’t escape from the Biden administration,” Henderson added.
Fahrizade has been monitored by the United States for years. In his 2018 speech, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused the Iranian government of trying to protect, hide and preserve it because it was so critical of their nuclear program.
But the United States has failed to take action or even speak publicly about the alleged assassination, stressing a reluctance among Trump’s top advisers to engage in a potential conflict with Iran in the last months of his presidency.
A U.S. official said that if the death was confirmed, “it would be a big deal,” and also said the United States was trying to determine exactly what happened, and said the United States would look at all typical intelligence streams of information.
There is no official comment from the United States, but Trump retweeted Israeli journalist Yossi Melman, who called Fahrizade’s death “a major psychological and professional blow to Iran.”
No excuse for an American strike
The American military point of view at the moment is that if there is no direct provocation against the United States by Iran, there is no justification for an American strike. The military challenge of hitting a target such as the Natanz nuclear facility remains unchanged. This will require repeated manned air strikes and the passage of Iran’s air defenses, and the United States believes that Iran will quickly retaliate with missile strikes in the region, many sources said.
These sources stress that there must be a direct and unequivocal provocation to provoke US military action.
A separate US official told CNN that they were monitoring the situation and stressed that it was very sensitive. “The last thing we need right now is a conflict with Iran,” the official said.
The United States currently has just over 50,000 troops in the region, which is not enough to wage a protracted military campaign against Iran.
There are no plans to deploy troops, but the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz is moving back to the Persian Gulf, along with other warships, to provide combat support and air cover as US troops withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan before Trump leaves office. mid-January, according to a U.S. defense official.
The decision marks a quick return to the Persian Gulf for Nimetz, which sailed to India only in early November, where it conducted naval exercises with the Indian Navy.
The defense spokesman said the move was decided before news of Fahrizade’s assassination came, but the move would serve as a message of heightened deterrence for Tehran.
The United States continues to monitor current intelligence threats and is aware of the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Iran’s Quds commander Kasem Soleimani in early January, an attack that Iran has vowed to avenge.
Pompeo spoke of the danger posed by Iran and elsewhere during an interview with Fox News on Thursday, which mentioned the aftermath of the January US strike that killed Soleimani.
“Today we have the strength posture. We will keep it right. We will take our troops home when we can and we will do the things we have to do. If Kasem Soleimani is a problem, we will crush them.” If Hamza bin Laden is a risk, we will take it out. “President Trump has been very clear that we will protect and secure the homeland, but we will not harm our young men and women when it does not bring real security benefits to the United States and our allies,” Pompeo said in an interview.
CNN reported earlier this month that President Trump had launched the idea of a military strike against Iran in the remaining days of his term, but was dissuaded by senior officials. It is unclear whether the administration will consider sabotage, cyber action or other covert alternatives if Trump orders any action.