The world should thank Israel for killing the father of Iran's nuclear weapons program, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a senior Israeli official told the New York Times on Sunday, citing the global threat such arms would pose.
The official, who was reportedly involved in the program to track Fakhrizadeh for years and spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Times that Israel would keep acting to curtail Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official who also spoke to the Times, called the alleged Israeli operation "unprecedented," adding it showed "no sign of being effectively countered by the Iranians.”
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Riedel, a senior fellow in the Saban Center for Middle-East Policy at the Brookings Institution, said Israel had invested considerable resources of its spy agencies mostly on Iran, and that this was in part the reason of its success.
Making an effective use of Farsi native speakers in its population, Israel has established human assets networks inside Iran and bases of operations in neighboring country – such as Azerbaijan, according to Riedel.
The fact that Fakhrizadeh was assassinated eight years after the last killing imputed to Israel shows that "the game is afoot, or coming" the former CIA official said, effectively warning other actions might be in the works.
Israel did not officially confirm its involvement in the bombing and shootout in the Iranian city of Absard, near Tehran, in which Fakhrizadeh was killed.
Senior Iranian officials, including Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, said that Israel was likely behind the attack.
"Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today. This cowardice – with serious indications of Israeli role – shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators," Zarif wrote on Twitter on Friday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu effectively fed the rumors, posting a video on his social media accounts Friday to insinuate that he “can’t tell all” about his actions on Israelis’ behalf over the past week.
Fakhrizadeh has been in Israel’s sights for years. Netanyahu publicly named him in 2018, when he showed the world the Iranian nuclear archive that the Mossad managed to steal. Both Israeli and Western intelligence agencies described him as someone with vast knowledge of Iran’s nuclear program.
Israel has long been suspected of several targeted assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, both in Iran and Syria. Several attacks on infrastructure linked to Iran's weapons program have also been linked to Israel.
The timing of the killing is also seen as significant, before president-elect Joe Biden, who defeated Donald Trump in the November 3 election, enters the White house. Biden is expected to move away from Trump's policy of harsh sanctions on Iran, and has expressed more willingness to negotiate with Tehran.