The assassination of the father of the nuclear program and the head of the ‘weapons program’ in Iran on Friday, Muhsin Fakhrizadeh, is and will be a severe and significant blow to the ayatollahs’ regime in Iran. Beyond harming such a senior figure in the overall war system in Iran, it is certainly a hard blow under the belt, and further proof that the regime’s enemies are succeeding in carrying out complex and significant operations on the home field, near Tehran. All estimates in Israel speak of Iranian revenge that will come soon, and will hurt us no less than the elimination of Fahrizadeh hurts the Iranians. Statements by the most senior members of the Iranian regime regarding Israel’s role in carrying out the operation only help with these assessments.
However, it is important to remember that the Iranians are calculated poker players, who before each decision will stop to find out the total consequences of an action they choose to take. Before any act of revenge they want to carry out, whether against US forces in the Arab Gulf or against Israeli targets around the world or through Hezbollah in Lebanon, they will weigh the risks and chances inherent in it. It is easy to understand that these days, the risks outweigh the chances of revenge Iranian against Israeli or American targets, and it is not for nothing that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said after the assassination that “revenge will come at the right time.” The prevailing feeling, even in the corridors of the Iranian regime, is to wait for the end of Donald Trump’s life in the White House. Iranian attack, especially in light of reports about two weeks ago of the president’s intentions to attack Iran. Because of this, Iranian revenge is not likely to take place today or tomorrow.
An Iranian video from the assassination scene. Photo: Social networks
The general expectation in Israel in particular and in the West in general for immediate Iranian revenge is not necessarily in line with the Iranian regime’s perception of time. The Iranians are operating over a longer timeline, setting goals that take longer to execute, and for them revenge can occur even in the invisible future. Evidence of the assassination of Quds Commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Qassem Suleimani, last January, who has yet to receive a significant act of revenge, ostensibly. Immediately after the assassination, both Iran and Iraq announced that the best revenge would be to expel the Americans from Iraq, and in the past year we have seen hundreds of rocket barrages on American military and diplomatic targets in Iraq, leading to base abandonment and downsizing. The Americans may not have left Iraq in a sweeping way, but it should certainly be seen as an Iranian move toward completing their goal.
The Iranian decision on revenge for assassination, if it comes, is expected to have a host of internal and foreign implications, which will be further strengthened in the run-up to the Iranian presidential election in June 2021. In general, Iranian politics is divided into a pragmatic camp led by President Rouhani. Permission not to return to the nuclear deal with the Americans and the West, because they cannot be trusted after abandoning the agreement once in 2018. Rouhani, who wants to be re-elected president, will probably recommend the Supreme Leader refrain from retaliating until after the election, wanting to try and advance further negotiations. Earlier, in the short period following Biden’s entry into the White House.
From the Israeli point of view, it is reasonable to assume that Biden’s expected entry into the White House will have a significant effect on the decision to carry out the liquidation at the chosen timing. It is not inconceivable that Jerusalem feared that such an action would not be possible under the presidency of Biden, who, according to all estimates and indications, would seek to resume talks with Tehran. In addition, it is not unreasonable to assume that the plan to carry out the assassination operation has not existed since yesterday, and now all the conditions for carrying it out have matured, towards the end of Donald Trump’s term. It is no secret that in Israel and the Netanyahu government there is significant concern about the future of the Iranian nuclear program under the Biden government, so the elimination of such an important and significant factor is like a last-ditch attempt to control the cards and influence reality.
Back to the nuclear deal?
While many may be sure yes, Iran is not necessarily in a hurry to return to the negotiating table with the Americans and sign a new agreement. A first rule of thumb for understanding Iranian policy, including foreign policy, is the understanding that things will rise and fall at the discretion of the country’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. Khamenei is first and foremost a shrewd politician, and understands that every decision has many sides and reasons, as does the decision to return Iran to the nuclear deal, which is certainly far from a black-and-white decision.
Khamenei was in no hurry to get excited about Biden’s choice. Western headlines that heralded after the US election results that “Iran is celebrating” did not match the response of the Supreme Leader, who chose mainly to mock the US election campaign. The US sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, as part of the “maximum pressure” policy it imposed on them after withdrawing from the original nuclear deal in May 2018. Khamenei’s remarks on the matter were added by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who clarified that the US would be required to compensate for any damage. She has the Trump administration, if she wants to return to the negotiating table.
The Iranians are indeed interested in signing a “new and improved” nuclear deal and are certainly interested in easing the heavy US economic pressure imposed on them by the Trump administration. At the same time, they are not interested in being beaten again, in their view, by the American administration in particular and the West in general. Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal signed by his predecessor Obama in 2015 is a trauma for them on the part of the West, which leads them to understand and fear that an agreement with the Americans must not be relied on again. The assassinations of the two fathers of the Iranian fighting and attacking system, Suleimani in January and Fakhrizada now, certainly do not make it easier for them to re-trust in the United States.
Due to the great fear of the Iranians, they are interested in reaching negotiations, when it happens, with their hand on the top, while setting the terms almost exclusively. To their understanding, Biden revealed the cards too quickly and tied himself to securing an election to return to the nuclear deal – which certainly allows them to make much higher demands. One of Biden’s tests on the matter will be to what extent he will show a willingness to compromise with the demands of the Iranians.
Iranian decisions regarding talks with the United States are also expected to be influenced in large part by what is happening in Iranian politics and preparations for the presidential election. The chances of the talks between Biden entering the White House in January and the Iranian presidential election in June are not high, and Khamenei is likely to see The identity of the new president in his country before he makes his decision on the issue, he understands that if he wants to give Rohani political power and prestige ahead of the election, he will encourage advancing moves before, or at least the beginning of informal diplomatic contacts. Rohani’s second presidential election could have an impact Also regarding the future question of the identity of the successor to Khamenei, when the president of Iran was mentioned as one of the candidates to succeed the supreme leader one day.
Most estimates suggest that Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement accelerated the nuclear project. A report from a few weeks ago shows that the Iranians have recently enriched uranium in an amount 12 times greater than what they were allowed under the nuclear agreement signed by Obama. The flare-up between Iran and the United States in the two years since Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement, along with the decision to recognize the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, has created in Iran the feeling that there is now an invaluable opportunity. This trend is likely to continue at least until Biden enters the White House. Signing of a new agreement, if and when that happens.Only last week, the Iranian parliament approved a decision to increase the level of uranium enrichment in the country.
In the shadow of the many assessments and speculations regarding the new nuclear agreement, and against the background of the elimination of Fakhrizadeh, it is important to remember that despite the many protests against the Iranian regime and the great criticism against it, whether covert or overt, the nuclear project is a broad Iranian consensus. The regime’s biggest opponents also recognize Iran’s right to possess nuclear capabilities, whether for science (as officially presented in Iran) or for weapons purposes. Another point is the understanding of the regime itself, which since the revolution 41 years ago has driven heavy fears of its survival, that nuclear weapons are the insurance certificate for its long-term existence. Because of this, it is hard to see him giving up so quickly.