Assassination Strengthens Iranian Hardliners; Weakens Chances of Renewed Nuclear Deal

An Iranian nuclear scientist’s assassination will bolster the hand of Iranian hardliners who don’t want a renewed nuclear deal with the incoming Biden administration, say Medea Benjamin & Ariel Gold.

Car Fahhrizadeh was driving in when he was assassinated on Friday outside Teheran,. (Fars News Agency/Wikimedia Commons)

By Medea Benjamin and Ariel Gold

Israel used all four years of Trump’s presidency to entrench its systems of occupation and apartheid. Now that Joe Biden has won the U.S. election, the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, likely by Israel with the go-ahead from the U.S. administration, is a desperate attempt to use Trump’s last days in office to sabotage Biden’s chances of successful diplomacy with Iran. Biden, Congress and the world community can’t let that happen.  

On Friday Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was assassinated in the Iranian city of Absard outside of Tehran. First, a truck with explosives blew up near the car carrying Fakhrizadeh. Then, gunmen started firing on Fakhrizadeh’s car.

The immediate speculation was that Israel had carried out the attack, perhaps with the support of the Iranian terrorist group the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (MEK). Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted that there were “serious indications of [an] Israeli role” in the assassination. 

All indications indeed point to Israel. In 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu identified this scientist, Fakhrizadeh, as a target of his administration during a presentation in which he claimed that Israel had obtained secret Iranian files that alleged the country was not actually abiding by the Iran Nuclear Deal. “Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh. So here’s his directive, right here,” Netanyahu said

Fakhrizadeh was far from the first assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist. Between 2010 and 2012, four Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinatedMasoud Alimohammadi, Majid Shahriari, Darioush Rezaeinejad and Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan. Though Israel never took official credit for the extrajudicial executions, reports were fairly conclusive that Israel, working with the MEK, were behind the killings. The Israeli government never denied the allegations. 

The assassination of Fakhrizadeh also follows reports that the Israeli government recently instructed its senior military officials to prepare for a possible U.S. strike on Iran, likely referring to a narrowly averted plan by President Trump to bomb Iran’s Natanz nuclear site.

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh (Tasnim News Agency/Wikimedia Commons)

Furthermore, there was a clandestine meeting between Netanyahu and Saudi ruler Mohammed bin Salman. Among the topics of conversation were normalization between the two countries and their shared antagonism towards Iran.

[U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also reportedly took part in the bin Salman-Netanyahu meeting in Saudi Arabia last Sunday.]

Israel’s attacks on Iran’s nuclear activities are particularly galling given that Israel, not Iran, is the only country in the Middle East in possession of nuclear weapons, and Israel refuses to sign the International Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Iran, on the other hand, doesn’t have nuclear weapons and it has opened itself up to the most intrusive international inspections ever implemented. Adding to this absurd double standard is the intense pressure on Iran from the United States—a nation that has more nuclear weapons than any country on earth.

Given the close relationship between Netanyahu and Trump, and the seriousness of this attack, it is very likely that this assassination was carried out with the green light from Trump himself. Trump has spent his time in the White House destroying the progress the Obama administration made in easing the conflict with Iran.

He withdrew from the nuclear deal and imposed an unending stream of crippling sanctions that have affected everything from the price of food and housing, to Iran’s ability to obtain life-saving medicines during the pandemic. He has blocked Iran from getting an IMF $5 billion emergency loan to deal with the pandemic.

In January, Trump brought the U.S. to the brink of war by assassinating Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, and in an early November meeting with his top security advisors, and right before the assassination of Fakhrizadeh, Trump himself reportedly raised the possibility of a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. 

After the news broke of the assassination, Trump expressed implicit approval of the attack by retweeting Israeli journalist and expert on the Israeli Mossad intelligence service, Yossi Melman, who described the killing of Fahkrizadeh as a “major psychological and professional blow for Iran.”

Iran has responded to these intense provocations with extreme patience and reserve. The government was hoping for a change in the White House and Biden’s victory signaled the possibility of both the U.S. and Iran going back into compliance with the nuclear deal.

This recent assassination, however, further strengthens the hands of Iranian hardliners who say it was a mistake to negotiate with the United States, and that Iran should just leave the nuclear deal and build a nuclear weapon for its own defense. 

Iranian-American analyst Negar Mortazavi bemoaned the chilling effect the assassination will have on Iran’s political space. “The atmosphere will be even more securitized, civil society and political opposition will be pressured even more, and the anti-West discourse will be strengthened in Iran’s upcoming presidential election,” she tweeted.

The hardliners already won the majority of seats in the February parliamentary elections and are predicted to win the presidential elections scheduled for June. So the window for negotiations is a narrow one of four months immediately after Biden’s inauguration. What happens between now and Jan. 20 could derail negotiations before they even start.

[See the full text of a letter from Iran’s United Nations ambassador to the UN secretary general on the assassination at the end of this article.]

Jamal Abdi, president of the National Iranian American Council, said that U.S. and Israeli efforts to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program “have now morphed into Trump & Netanyahu sabotaging the next U.S. President. They are trying to goad Iran into provocations & accelerating nuclear work—exactly what they claim to oppose. Their real fear is U.S. & Iran talking.”

That’s why U.S. members of Congress, and President-elect Biden himself, must vigorously condemn this act and affirm their commitment to the U.S. rejoining the nuclear deal. When Israel assassinated other nuclear scientists during the Obama administration, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced the murders, understanding that such illegal actions made negotiations infinitely more difficult.

The European Union, as well as some important U.S. figures have already condemned the attack. Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy pointed out the risks involved in normalizing assassinations, how the killing will make it harder to restart the Iran Nuclear agreement, and how the assassination of General Soleimani backfired from a security standpoint.

Former Obama advisor Ben Rhodes tweeted that it was an “outrageous action aimed at undermining diplomacy,” and former CIA head John Brennan called the assassination “criminal” and “highly reckless,” risking “lethal retaliation and a new round of regional conflict,” but rather than putting the responsibility on the U.S. and Israel to stop the provocations, he called on Iran to “be wise” and “resist the urge to respond.”

Many on Twitter have raised the question of what the world response would be if the roles were reversed and Iran assassinated an Israeli nuclear scientist. Without a doubt, the U.S. administration, whether Democrat or Republican, would be outraged and supportive of a swift military response. But if we want to avoid escalation, then we must hope that Iran will not retaliate, at least not during Trump’s last days in office.

The only way to stop this crisis from spiraling out of control is for the world community to condemn the act, and demand a UN investigation and accountability for the perpetrators. The countries that joined Iran and the United States in signing  the 2015 nuclear agreement —Russia, China, Germany, the UK and France—must not only oppose the assassination but publicly recommit to upholding the nuclear deal.

President-elect Biden must send a clear message to Israel that under his administration, these illegal acts will have consequences. He must also send a clear message to Iran that he intends to quickly re-enter the nuclear deal, stop blocking Iran’s $5 billion IMF loan request, and begin a new era of diplomacy to dial back the intense conflict he inherited from Trump’s recklessness.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran. She is a member of the writers’ group Collective20.

Ariel Gold is the national co-director of CODEPINK and runs their Peace with Iran campaign.

Letter from Iranian UN Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres: 


I am writing to inform you that today, 27 November 2020 in Absard city of Tehran province, Mr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a prominent Iranian scientist, was assassinated in a terrorist attack. One of the latest services of Martyr Fakhrizadeh was his outstanding role in the development of the first indigenous COVID-19 Test Kit, which is a great contribution to our national efforts in curbing the COVID-19 pandemic at a time when Iran is under inhumane sanctions of the United States, strictly preventing our access to humanitarian goods including medicines and medical equipment. He was also supervising the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Over the current decade, several top Iranian scientists have been targeted and assassinated in terrorist attacks and our firm evidence clearly indicates that certain foreign quarters have been behind such assassinations. The cowardly assassination of Martyr Fakhrizadeh — with serious indications of Israeli responsibility in it – is another desperate attempt to wreak havoc on our region as well as to disrupt Iran’s scientific and technological development. While during the past forty years, no amount of pressure and terrorist attacks were able to prevent us from achieving science and technology needed for our socio-economic development.

Warning against any adventuristic measures by the United States and Israel against my country, particularly during the remaining period of the current administration of the United States in office, the Islamic Republic of Iran reserves its rights to take all necessary measures to defend its people and secure its interests.

The Islamic Republic of Iran condemns, in the strongest possible terms, the criminal assassination of Martyr Fakhrizadeh, and expects the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Security Council to strongly condemn this inhumane terrorist act and take necessary measures against its perpetrators.
I should be grateful if you would have the present letter circulated as a document of the Security Council.

Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.
I should be grateful if you would have the present letter circulated as a document of the Security Council.

Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.

Majid Takht Ravanchi
Permanent Representative

H.E. Mr. Antonio Guterres
United Nations
New York

H.E. Mrs. Inga Rhonda King
President of the Security Council
United Nations

25 comments for “Assassination Strengthens Iranian Hardliners; Weakens Chances of Renewed Nuclear Deal

  1. robert e williamson jr
    November 30, 2020 at 18:43

    Israeli leaders: Let me see here, what is it I can do to help out my good American friends in this time of their innumerable difficulties.?

    Israeli leaders: Something appropriate that will ease their tensions.

    Israeli leader: Got by golly, we will terrorize the Iranians by murdering another of their high ranking nuclear scientists.

    Doesn’t make any sense does it?

    The next time you hear Israel is a valued ally of the U.S. come out of Washington remember this incident , write that traitors name down and then call our congressman and write a letter to Israeli lover Zionist Joe Biden.

    Folks if we are going to straighten out this country we need to trash the two party system we have that insists on selling us out to the bad guys.

    Enjoy your your great friends in Israel Joe, I guess they got you elected.

  2. Christian J. Chuba
    November 30, 2020 at 15:07

    You had me at ‘hardliners’. Are there any ‘hardliners’ in the U.S.?
    I would say that Iran is divided into ‘Globalists’ vs ‘Nationalists’

    I’ve listened to the Ayatollah’s statements regarding the JCPOA. He isn’t harsh when addressing the Globalist Rouhani, he just warns him that the West cannot be trusted to keep agreements and that Iran has to focus on developing local industries and be self-sufficient (a Nationalist perspective).

  3. Dr. Hujjathullah M.H. Babu Sahib
    November 30, 2020 at 13:30

    This is quite a decent presentation of the pertinent facts surrounding the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists. What I find purplexing is that despite a series of targetted assassinations of their nuclear scientists, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s reactions have always been very restrained and they have also not developed any capability of their own to respond in kind at each time. Is this due to the hardline Islamic nature of the Iranian government or is it due more to their relatively weak covert, strategic capabilities ?

    Their responses also show the maturity of Iranian statecraft that despite the ridiculous credentials of the U.N., the Iranians are still willing to give the U.N. a credibility that it rarely deserves, let alone merit under a crisis in this VUCA era.

    Though Zionist devotees to the core themselves too, let us hope that the incoming Biden administration can exercise a more professional, balanced posture in the Middle East region. Still, returning to the old JCPOA is no longer an option especially unmodified, and given their mature reactions to provocation, the Iranians deserve to have their own nukes, despite the reluctance of their own Islamic government to possess them, particularly so, because the M.E. bully, Israel is armed to the hilt with them !

  4. November 30, 2020 at 12:52

    It’s not just ‘hardliners’ who say it’s a mistake to negotiate with the US. Numerous countries have fallen victim to US bad faith in ‘negotiating’ with the world’s number one bully, and some have learnt from their mistake. And it’s not just ‘hardliners’ who should be saying that Iran leave the nuclear ‘deal’ and build it’s own nuclear weapons.

    Short of revolution in both the Israel and the US, the only way that Iran can have some semblance of security is to have a credible military deterrence to Israel and the US. Short of nuclear weapons and an effective delivery system, the US, Israel and other members of the imperialist ‘international community’ will only continue in their provocations, ‘inspections’ and bullying, ‘deal’ or no ‘deal’. North Korea very likely would have suffered Libya’s fate without its own nuclear capability.

    Bullies only understand the language of force and threat, and the quicker Iran builds its nuclear weapons capability, the quicker the assassinations and other war provocations will stop. It’s irrational and ‘hardline’ to think otherwise.

  5. jdd
    November 30, 2020 at 08:40

    With the assemblage of super-hawks that Biden would bring in, does anyone really think that Iran will be granted justice?

  6. Realist
    November 30, 2020 at 06:24

    How could a murderous caper like this NOT harden the minds of average Iranians against Israel and the West. It hardens mine. To not suspect with near certainty that Israel was the perpetrator is the thinking of a deluded fantasist. Israel and its many supporters in the United States exude unmistakable hatred of Iran and supreme hubris attributed usually only to the ancient pagan gods. There is no mistaking their motives behind such actions, which the authors elucidate well enough. These are people who think that world wars are winnable, never mind the consequences to all sides and the civilians caught in the middle. To them, those are all just collateral damage which only whiners complain about.

    Can you imagine an outbreak like the rather many bombings and assassinations recently plaguing Iran happening in the United States? There is no way that the American police state would allow such operations to not just happen but routinely succeed. That said, Iran must be among the freest countries on Earth, a place where bombs and heavy armaments can be trotted around without notice like American 2nd amendment advocates can only dream about. It boggles the mind. That American intel officers surely collaborate in actualizing such sick attacks against their loudly designated enemies makes me fear them much more than any Iranian clerics or politicians.

    Joe, if you and your incoming team of Charlie’s Angels doesn’t immediately condemn these actions against Iran you will already be a failed president before you even take the oath of office. You have no chance of being any more than a one termer: tell AIPAC to go to he ll if they too will not condemn such blatant cold blooded murder in the deliberate pursuit of a major war.

    • Anne
      November 30, 2020 at 15:25

      Quite – but what do you rate the chances??? Below zero would be my estimate… (for the Blue faced condemnation of the OP…)

  7. robert e williamson jr
    November 29, 2020 at 22:22

    This typical Israeli (& Benny Netinyahoo) government behavior. ” It’s the timing stupid!”

    Once again Israel commits a terrorist attack, gets away with it cleanly and the event destabilizes an already unstable mess. Benny came to the US and upstaged the American President at the behest of the Republicans by coming into a meeting of Congress uninvited by the U.S. president. He knows no bounds and is apparently as crazy as Trump is.

    Someone needs to get in Biden’s ear about just who it was that got him elected because unless he come around and starts listening to those people he will not get re-elected.

    But then hell who knows maybe that’s the plan for the Demos, just throw in the the repugs and forget elections.

    Honestly one would think that the voter turn out would be sending a message to all political types the we natives are getting bone weary of the two party bullshit!

    A Floridian repub mayor was on the MSM last evening. He is quarreling with Florida idiot gov about his mitigation measures or the lack there of . Florida is approaching one million cases of Trump Fever and this mayor says , rather lamely, that he believes the gov is the victim of bad advice. The advice being to let the virus have it’s way and achieve herd immunity.

    The mayor says the problem with that is that “we are culling the heard”.

    I think the mayor is onto something.

    I have stated openly previously that what Trump and his hater republican party has allowed to happen is tantamount to a war of genocide, prosecuted by obvious neglect on the poorest and least healthy members of society. An event very much like could be observed in a country with a declared cast system.

    Yes it does sound very ugly and it is.

    This aspect of this tragedy is not going to go away easily. Get ready Joe, kissing and making up with the facilitators of this scourge is not going to serve you well. Most prognosticators claim we have at least another year of fighting this battle. Wise the hell up, this isn’t going away and Americans will not forget this overnight.

  8. Nathan Mulcahy
    November 29, 2020 at 20:04

    From Craig Murray, “The State You May Not Criticise”

    I hope I do not get prosecuted for posting this.


  9. Jeff Harrison
    November 29, 2020 at 14:03

    Israel is a cancer on the Middle East’s body politic. There are a few things that I think we can be assured of: (1) Iran will not tolerate any attempts to limit it’s missile programs, (2) Iran will not return to full compliance with the JPCOA until they receive all the benefits that they should have gotten in the first place (the US didn’t and never had any intention of complying with the agreement).

    The US is in a very bad place. Sleepy Joe is becoming senile/demented/Alzheimer. Not the sort of person you want to work through these minefields. Furthermore, everybody seems to think that an attack on Iran by either the US or Israel will succeed. Not only does Iran have their own anti-aircraft systems they also have Russian S300 systems and with the expiration of the UN sanctions, they will probably be supplying them with S400s and various Russian high performance A/C. With some of the capabilities the Iran already has demonstrated, attacking them could be very painful.

    • Anne
      November 30, 2020 at 15:23

      So utterly true.

  10. Eddie S
    November 29, 2020 at 13:21

    Why aren’t there are any serious actions in the US government to sanction Israel for these actions? The US is always sanctioning other countries for flimsier reasons/evidence – – why aren’t we at least holding back the ~$3B (or whatever it’s up-to nowadays) in military aid we give Israel each year? Make that aid contingent on NO non-defensive (ie; proportionate response to a direct PHYSICAL attack) actions against other countries, you-know… like the UN and international law require? (Yes, unfortunately I know the answers to those rhetorical questions, the main one being that the US MIC does NOT want a reduction in hostilities worldwide, primarily due-to venial economic reasons.).

  11. Bigfoot
    November 29, 2020 at 12:42

    No reason to cite Brennan for anything. How does his take on an assassination bolster your take?

    Also interesting to read this piece juxtaposed with Max “Lick the” Boot’s endorsement of assassination in yesterday’s WP.

  12. Rob
    November 29, 2020 at 12:11

    The best thing that incoming President Biden could do in this situation is to end all economic sanctions on Iran. However, given that his foreign policy advisory team is packed with hawks and Iranophobes, that would seem a highly unlikely scenario.

    • Nathan Mulcahy
      November 30, 2020 at 14:24

      Sleepy Joe will do no such thing simply because he is part of the problem – as is Trump, as is the ZOGUSA (Zionist Occupied Government of the USA). That’s one (of many) reason(s) why I don’t vote for them.

  13. November 29, 2020 at 08:41

    I understand the sentiment, but I disagree on conclusions.

    Before the latest murder*, there were speculations that Biden crew will not be able to resist poison pills that would nix restoration of the nuclear deal with Iran. Restoring the deal is simplicity itself, the deal exists, a single succinct document signed by the President. It would help to have a paragraph on rolling back all sanctions imposed by Trump and all responsibilities for violating these sanctions. Make Trump’s administrative decision null and void. But the temptation exists to “improve the deal”, like demanding that Iran abandons or restricts missile weapons, which is absurd — Iran does not need nukes to defend itself, but it must have some modern weapons for defense and retaliation.

    But the squishy liberal rhetoric of the past years could push Biden in that direction. Now it seems somewhat less probable.

    There is also a sliver of hope in otherwise lamentable tendency among Democratic leaders to copy the worst traits of Republicans upon observing that they were effective in politics. Trump raised himself to a political item by harping baseless accusations on Obama, notably “birtherism”. Democrats copied that in the form of “Russian collusion”. A zealous undoing the work of the predecessor is another thing that they could copy, and here it would actually make some good.

    Ideally, one should also copy Trump’s “lock her (now, him) up”, and use an actual self-confessed crime (that would be a novelty, but shouldn’t it work better?). Open criminal investigation on the murder of Qasem Suleimani. USA would gain by getting rid of some murderers and accomplices, peninsular Arabs would gain by tempering their proclivity to murder people who annoy ruling princes, and the relations with Iran would warm up from the temperature that may freeze helium to, say, water melting point.

    • November 29, 2020 at 08:44

      Historically, assassination was a dirty word, but for quite a while, it was curiously ennobled as a “killing performed by our people or allies, most probably for a good reason”. Murder, so far, is a word that was not involved in whitewashing.

  14. Moi
    November 29, 2020 at 01:43

    The best revenge Iran could exact on Israel is a return to the nuclear pact. If only that capital B bully called the US could do something reponssible for change and rejoin the pact as a way of telling Israel to tone down its constant attempts to start a new ME war.

  15. Nathan mulct
    November 28, 2020 at 22:56

    Why does the entire world cower before this country that continues to violate international laws? What power does this country have over rest of the world?

    • November 29, 2020 at 08:51

      None. But well loved by Obama.

    • TimN
      November 29, 2020 at 09:41

      In a word, money.

    November 28, 2020 at 20:04

    Netanyahu wants a war against Iran – not a war conducted on his own, he is far too cowardly for that – but a war led by the United States, before Israel loses the most servile American President it has ever enjoyed having, Donald Trump.

    So, I would expect a very dangerous couple of months ahead with possible Israeli hostilities.

    Joe Biden is pretty servile to Israel also, but I do not think he would want a war. He served under Obama whose one important achievement was resisting Israel’s demands and threats and signing the Iran nuclear agreement.

    At one point, Netanyahu threatened Obama by saying he would attack Iran. He had made many preparations and, of course, he knew the US would be forced to defend Israel.

    I’m not sure a lot of people are aware of it, but Obama’s response was “I’ll shoot your planes down if you try that.” Although he didn’t have many, it was Obama’s finest hour, and Biden worked closely with him.

    • flikserv
      November 29, 2020 at 15:58

      Do you have a source on that Obama quote, John?

    • paul easton
      November 30, 2020 at 12:03

      I remember those “threats”, and wondering why they were “threats”. Why would the US be “forced” to defend Israel? If true it is insane.

      • robert e williamson jr
        November 30, 2020 at 19:07

        Well Paul I got some ideas about your question. Just suppose that sometime in the last seventy years or so the Israeli equivalent of our CIA pulled a super nasty trick on America and CIA looked the other way for favors to be repaid later or something of that nature. Likely the first instances of Israeli misbehavior started as soon as the U.S. CIA came into existence.

        Have you heard of blackmail Paul? The term strike terror in the hearts of so many D.C. insiders and if we check on the behaviors on many of there folks we see why. Look at trump and those who facilitate his ravings.

        Do you actually think that if Israeli intelligence got the goods on some CIA insider, would we ever find out?

        So far we haven’t because CIA controls their secrets and DOJ allows them to.

        Fact: From 1949, the year I was born until 2020 the U.S. has given Israel $295.11 billion, the last was a 30 billion package over ten years and then congress thanks to Mitch and Co. gave an additional 6 or 60 or 600
        million to sweeten the gift.

        Blackmail Paul, blackmail.

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