The year 2020 opened with the assassination of Revolutionary Guards General Qassem Suleimani – the man who led the strategic effort to achieve conventional Iranian hegemony in the Middle East. Towards the end of 2020, an assassination attempt was carried out on Revolutionary Guards General Muhsin Fakhrizadeh yesterday, who led Iran’s second strategic effort – an effort to reach nuclear weapons.
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The assassination of Fakhrizada raises four questions: Who is responsible for it and what did he want to achieve? What are the consequences of the assassination of the Iranian nuclear program? What will be the Iranian response? What is the recommended policy for Israel (also) in light of this event?
are youresponsibility The Americans undertook to harm Qassem Suleimani. No further action was taken last summer, most notably the attack on the site of the advanced centrifuges at Netanaz – neither was yesterday’s operation, nor was the assassination of Fakhrizadeh. The Trump administration has demonstrated in its past actions with Iran that it does not accept the prevailing approach in the United States – that any military attack on Iran inevitably degenerates into war.
Trump seems determined to leave behind a significant legacy of undermining the architects of the major threats in the Middle East: Iran’s nuclear, terrorism and regional hegemony (Fakhrizadeh, Suleimani, Baghdadi, Abdullah Ahmad Abdullah). Netanyahu, for his part, is determined to use the rest of Trump’s term to promote recent achievements, even at the cost of opening his relations with the Biden administration in a shrill tone.
Pompeo’s visit last week, which was probably not just for a visit to Psagot Winery. The leak in the United States to the New York Times about the assassination of a senior al-Qaeda figure in Tehran, the nightly meeting in Saudi Arabia that was leaked in Israel and Trump’s retweeting of a tweet from Israel saying that Fakhrizadeh “was wanted by the Mossad for many years” point in one direction. The Pentagon responded with “no response” and intelligence sources in the United States told the American media that it was Israel. Israel has not given an official response, but the prime minister said of his actions this week that “not everything he can tell.” The denials and leaks are helping the Iranians point to Israel.
An Iranian nuclear bomb was the mission of Muhsin Fakhrizada’s life. In 2003, when the Iranian military nuclear program was closed following the American invasion of Iraq, Tehran decided to reach the nuclear threshold on a civilian path. Fakhrizadeh, who led the illegitimate weapons group, which did not have and does not have a civilian cover story, has preserved the knowledge in various organizations and institutions. The man has been involved for many years in all the prohibited nuclear activities that have no civilian coverage story.
If there is a secret Iranian weapons program it has suffered a severe blow, not necessarily due to the loss of scientific knowledge but due to the loss of project leadership. Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb passes through two bottlenecks – the accumulation of fissile material by uranium enrichment – which Iran does in a legitimate guise of a civilian plan. In addition, the development of the head of the battle and the installation of ballistic missiles – a route that Iran denies its existence because it is a violation of the NPT Convention to which it is a signatory.
Even before the nuclear deal in 2015, Iran was a few months away from the amount of fissile material at a military level sufficient for a first bomb. Even today, in light of the development of its advanced centrifuges and deviations from the nuclear agreement, it can in a short time accumulate enough fissile material. The distance from a bomb will be measured primarily by the ability to pack the material at the head of a nuclear battle. Fakhrizada’s departure will undoubtedly date Iran’s time for nuclear weapons. There are few people with managerial leadership skills and professionalism whose injury leaves a space that is difficult to close. It seems that Muhsin Fakhrizada joins Imad Mu’aniya and Qassem Suleimani – who may be a replacement for them, but not a replacement.
What will be the Iranian response?
The most important question now is what the reaction will be. Following the assassination of Suleimani, the Iranians acted within a few days against the person responsible for the operation – the Americans. They fired dozens of missiles at a U.S. base in Iraq.
President Rouhani today accuses Israel of assassinating Fakhrizada. Will we see an Iranian response? On the one hand, the Iranians vowed to respond – both in retaliation and in restoring their deterrence. On the other hand, the Iranians are very cautious about a high-casualty response, a response that could provide grounds for a U.S. attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, a possibility that Trump reportedly examined with his advisers recently. The Iranians have in the past demonstrated in-depth analytical and thinking abilities that knew how to postpone actions and perform them at the right time, place and in front of the target. Iran is eagerly awaiting the start of the Biden administration. Whether Iran is tempted to retaliate or restrain itself will make it difficult for it to return to the nuclear deal. And maybe that was the purpose of the operation yesterday in Tehran.
What is right for Israel to do now?
First, it is worth maintaining a media silence. When Iran is quarreling but also undecided, from the Pentagon “no response” and intelligence sources in the United States point to Jerusalem’s responsibility – it is important that in official Israel the policy be a “restriction on wisdom silence”. Israel must assume that the Iranian response may be directed at it as well. Therefore, supreme intelligence vigilance and immediate operational readiness in missile defense systems are required. Increased attention is also needed to the possibility that Iran will use its missiles from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen to harm Israeli targets both at the borders and abroad. In these contexts, coordination with the United States, which is a multiplier of intelligence, operational and diplomatic power, must be opened. Incoming Biden senior officials – the crisis may and in fact is expected to continue into their term.
In conclusion, the perpetrator of the assassination apparently tried to achieve three goals: undermining the Iranian nuclear program, creating an escalation that would end in an attack on the Iranian nuclear sites, and preventing the Biden administration from returning to the nuclear deal. The first goal seems to have been achieved – the escalation following the operation is still ahead of us and the price may be high. The other two targets are highly dependent on the Iranian response and in any case are far-reaching targets whose chances of realization are low.