On 27 November 2020, Iran’s senior nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated in Absurd, 80 kilometers east of Tehran. Fakhrizadeh, also an officer of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), has been in charge of Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program for over two decades.
In 2008, the Chief Inspector of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced its role in what was later known as Projects 110 and 111, or Project AMAD—an Iranian project to miniaturize and rugged an atomic bomb to suit a rocket. Documents stolen from Iran by Israel’s Mossad in 2018 have outlined its role in Iran’s attempt to build a nuclear bomb.
Who was Mohsen Fakhrizadeh?
Fakhrizadeh, one of Iran’s most influential physicists, was also a member of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and was likened by The New York Times to J Robert Oppenheimer, the American theoretical physicist who was the head of the Los Alamos laboratory during the production of the world’s first nuclear weapons. According to the BBC, he was a “key player” – something that Israel has asserted in the past – particularly after Iran began to violate its nuclear deal obligations.
Earlier this year, Iran announced it would drop the restrictions on uranium enrichment, while refusing to cooperate with the 2015 nuclear pact it negotiated with six major powers.
How was Fakhrizadeh killed?
Early reports indicated that a pick-up truck had been exploded on the road, after which Fakhrizadeh’s four-car convoy had been ambushed by 10 to 15 armed men. However, subsequent sources, in particular Ali Shamkhani, IRGC General and Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, make it clear that Fakhrizadeh was killed by a remote-controlled machine-gun turret mounted on a Nissan pick-up truck.
The turret began shooting a car carrying the scientist and his wife from a distance of around 160 meters. Upon hearing the fire, Fakhrizadeh got out of the car and was hit. Subsequently, the pickup truck was self-destructed in a massive blast.
It was a perfectly deniable operation. There was no agent to apprehend, and the blast blew all evidence of who may have carried out the operation.
What are the consequences of killing him?
The killing of Fakhrizadeh could “complicate” US President-elect Joe Biden’s attempt to restore the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement that Biden has vowed. Significantly, relations between the US and Iran – which were acrimonious for the first time after the 1979 Iranian revolution – have started to worsen after President Donald Trump abruptly withdrawn from the 2015 nuclear agreement and imposed sanctions on Iran.
Consequently, his assassination may also be a move to slow down Iran’s nuclear aspirations.