New Delhi: Iran’s senior-most nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated near Tehran last Friday. Despite the scientist’s heavy security detail, attackers “used electronic equipment” to fire at his car and kill him.
“This is not just an isolated event or an act of revenge. This is a political move on a really deadly, global strategic chessboard,” said ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta in episode 629 of Cut The Clutter.
In his first remarks on the assassination, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said, “The enemies are experiencing stressful weeks… They are mindful that the global situation is changing, and are trying to make the most of these days to create unstable conditions in the region.”
Gupta said Rouhani was insinuating that Israel is in “cahoots” with the Donald Trump administration in the United States to create a situation that will elicit a retaliation from Iran and thereby leave behind a crisis for President-elect Joe Biden when he takes office in January next year.
Unlike Trump, Biden is committed to returning to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a US-Iran agreement signed during former president Barack Obama’s time to try and contain Iran’s nuclear programme in return for lifting sanctions, said Gupta.
The agreement became operational on 16 January 2016, less than 96 hours before Obama officially ceased to be president, and Trump took over, said Gupta. But it was a deal “dead on arrival” as Trump had already taken a strong position that viewed Iran as “the great Satan”.
For India, its nuanced relationship with Iran, be it economic, political or strategic, has been held at ransom ever since Trump’s withdrawal from JCPOA, remarked Gupta. If Biden resumes negotiations with Iran, it will ease up issues like the Chabahar Port and have a similar effect on countries around India like Afghanistan and Pakistan, he said.
Fakhrizadeh’s death part of a series of assassinations
Fakhrizadeh’s death is part of a series of targeted assassinations, said Gupta. Between 2010 and 2012, four Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated and the country has accused Israel of playing a role in the killings. This also comes nearly a year after the US assassinated top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.
On 7 August, al Qaeda’s second-highest leader, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah or Abu Muhammad al-Masri, thought to be the mastermind behind the 1998 attacks on American embassies in Africa, was gunned down while on a walk with his daughter in Tehran. Iran did not speak out about it as it not only brought shame to Iran’s security and intelligence, but also because it was “political embarrassment” for a Shia nation to harbour a terrorist from a Sunni organisation, explained Gupta.
Then again, Iran and al Qaeda have shared an “old connection”, which Iran “does not want to admit to”, said Gupta, citing Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark’s book ‘The Exile’.
Former Central Intelligence Agency chief John O. Brennan called Fakhrizadeh’s death “a criminal act” and implied that this could lead to retaliation that would hurt US diplomacy in the Middle East.
Former deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, during Obama’s tenure, also said the assassination was aimed at undermining diplomacy between the Biden administration and Iran. However, Brennan and Rhodes’ remarks provoked criticism from Republican Senator Ted Cruz. Also, political scientist Ian Bremmer reminded Brennan that four nuclear scientists were assassinated in Iran while he was running the CIA.
Biden presidency will majorly affect Middle East
With Biden as the new US President-elect, every part of the world is expecting changes in US foreign policy, but nobody will be more affected by this change than the Middle East, said Gupta.
Going country by country, Gupta explained that Turkey, an estranged NATO ally who “got away with a bit” under Trump, won’t be as lucky with Biden and is already trying to cement its relationship with Europe. It also must be asked if Biden will be as indifferent to Turkey’s role in Syria and Libya as Trump was, he added.
Syria is in a “complete mess”, but it will be critical to see how Biden will position himself with regard to President Bashar al-Assad.
Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu, who found a “complete unquestioning ally” in Trump, won’t have the same with Biden.
“If anything, [Biden] was critical of Trump for shifting the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” added Gupta. Though Biden has made it clear that he won’t shift back the embassy, he is unlikely to cut Netanyahu as much slack as Trump did, said Gupta.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations are paranoid about their “ideological rival”, Iran.
The situation in Iraq is equally complex as the country is under heavy Iranian influence and the US has troops there, Gupta said and also predicted that “respect” may return to US diplomacy in the Middle East and talks may resume.
Watch the full CTC here: