Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, considered one of the brains in Iran’s controversial nuclear program, was killed by gunfire and explosives while driving in a vehicle east of Tehran.
Iran claimed that Israel was behind the assassination and called it an act of terrorism. Israel has not officially responded to the allegation.
The attack comes weeks after the International Atomic Energy Agency, the supreme nuclear watchdog, said Iran now has 12 times the amount of enriched uranium allowed under the 2015 nuclear deal.
Challenge for Biden
“I think it’s undoubtedly that Israel did,” said Simon Henderson, a spokesman for The Washington Institute and a specialist in Iran’s nuclear program. “If you are Israel, you will put the program months back, if not years.”
“You’re also trying to get away with something now that you probably wouldn’t be able to get away with during a Biden administration,” Henderson added.
Fakhrizadeh has been closely monitored by the United States for years. In a speech in 2018, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused the Iranian government of going out of his way to protect, hide and preserve him because he 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 final months of his presidency.
A US official said that if confirmed that death “would be a big deal”, and also said that the US is trying to determine what exactly happened, and said the US will look at all the typical intelligence flows of information for clues .
There has been no official comment from the United States, but Trump retweeted an Israeli journalist, Yossi Melman, calling Fakhrizadeh’s death “a major psychological and professional blow to Iran.”
No justification for a US strike
The US military view right now is that unless there is a direct provocation against the US from Iran, there is no justification for a US strike. The military challenge of hitting a target like the Natanz nuclear plant remains unchanged. It would require repeated manned air strikes and get past Iran’s air defenses, and the United States believes Iran would quickly retaliate with missile strikes in the region, several sources said.
These sources emphasize that there should be a direct and unmistakable provocation to trigger US military action.
A separate US official tells CNN that they are monitoring the situation and stressed that it is 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 carry out an ongoing military campaign against Iran.
There are no plans for a troop build, but the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier will be moved back to the Persian Gulf along with other warships to provide combat support and air blanket, as U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan before Trump leaves office in mid-January. , according to a U.S. defense official.
The decision marks a rapid return to the Gulf of Nimitz, which only left in early November to sail for India, where it conducted maritime exercises with Indian naval forces.
The defense official said the move was decided before the news came of the assassination of Fakhrizadeh, but the move would serve as a message of increased deterrence to Tehran.
The United States continues to monitor the current intelligence threads of threats and is very aware that the one-year anniversary of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani’s assassination in early January is approaching, an attack Iran has vowed to avenge.
Pompeo spoke about the danger from Iran and elsewhere during an interview broadcast on Fox News on Thursday, citing the aftermath of the US strike in January that killed Soleimani.
“We have a state of strength right today. We’re holding it right. We’ll get our troops home whenever we can and we will do the things we need to do. If Qasem Soleimani is a problem, we ‘I crush them. If Hamza bin Ladin poses a risk, we take him out. President Trump has been very clear that we want to protect and secure our homeland, but we do not want to harm our young men and women when it does not provide real security benefits for the United States and for our allies, ”Pompeo said in the interview.
CNN reported earlier this month that President Trump floated the idea of a military strike against Iran for the remainder of his term, but was deterred by senior officials. It is not clear whether the administration would consider sabotage, cyber-action or other secret alternatives if Trump ordered some kind of action.