Happy Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Between the pandemic, US politics, and conflicts around the world, getting some respite can be a tough proposition. Among other events, more violence in the Middle East. Are we shocked?
According to news reports, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s top nuclear scientist, was killed by terrorists. Apparently his car was ambushed by an armed group outside Tehran.
NPR reported: “No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but some senior Iranian officials said they believe Israel played a role.”
It’s a safe bet any number of people in addition to senior Iranian officials have similar suspicions. The NY Times noted “[i]ntelligence officials say there is little doubt that Israel was behind the killing — it had all the hallmarks of a precisely-timed operation by Mossad, the country’s spy agency.” Imagine that.
Fakhrizadeh was a big target and reports were his security had grown increasingly sloppy over the years. Absent confirmation Israel was behind this, are there other possibilities? The Saudis? The Americans? An Iranian faction? A group of bandits in a robbery gone bad? Colonel Mustard (in the library with a candlestick)?
There are a number of possibilities. For now, I would venture initial reactions are correct. However, my sense is both the USA and Saudis were in the loop. Last week we learned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a “secret” flight to Saudi Arabia, where he met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also joined the party.
Both the Israelis and Saudis are concerned the Biden administration will take a different tack with Iran and come back to the bargaining table to revive the multilateral nuclear deal Trump broke. I presume Pompeo and others within the outgoing Trump administration want to hamstring Biden and prevent a deal from occurring. The NY Times article I linked to above seems to suggest this was indeed the objective of the assassination.
Given what we know so far, and the motives of the various players involved, it’s a good bet this originated with the Israelis, the Saudis went along for the ride, and Pompeo was given a heads-up and likely provided US final approval. Presuming this is correct, it’s not a particularly smart move. Unless, I suppose, the goal is to create more regional instability to keep relationships in turmoil and put more money in the pockets of global arms manufacturers. Both the US and Israel make an inordinate number of weapons. And Saudi oil money buys a lot.
In some respects, I guess we’re somewhat lucky top Iranian leadership has at times exhibited a tendency to play it cool and cautious — more of a long-term strategic game. While there are calls for vengeance, I think it’s unlikely Iran will immediately escalate in response. They will make a move at some point. You don’t assassinate leading citizens of other countries without consequences. And so the violence continues.
I’m reminded of this classic video: