Killing of Iranian Scientist Is a Dangerous Provocation

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Students of Iran's Basij paramilitary force burn posters depicting Donald Trump and Joe Biden, during a rally in front of the foreign ministry in Tehran, on November 28, 2020,

A moment before the transition of power in Washington, President Donald Trump presumably gave his blessing to the assassination of the father of Iran’s nuclear program, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in Absard, northeast of Tehran. The goal of the operation, which has the potential to ignite a regional escalation, is to take advantage of the final moments of Trump’s term in order to constrain the President-elect Joe Biden and thwart a U.S. return to the international nuclear agreement with Iran.

The New York Times reported that intelligence officials attributed the assassination to Israel, and Iranian leaders have already threatened harsh retaliation. Iranian President Hassan Rohani explicitly blamed Israel and warned that Tehran would retaliate “at the proper time.” Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, the chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, blamed “the Zionists.” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif similarly pointed a finger at Jerusalem, which he accused of “warmongering.” These threats mean Israel now risks an intensified head-on clash with Tehran at the height of the coronavirus crisis, and at a time when it’s being led by a divided, dysfunctional government in which people around the prime minister even boast of routinely excluding the foreign and defense ministers from diplomatic and military-related developments.

This intoxication with power may well lead not only to a dangerous military conflict with Iran, but also to Israel’s first diplomatic crisis with the Biden administration even before it enters office. Even without this, Israel was facing a difficult job of repairing its relationship with Washington under a Democratic administration. Now it seems that instead of striving to preserve this strategic alliance, which is vital also for the struggle against Iran, Israel is only widening the rift.

In this complicated situation, Israeli politicians have offered virtually no criticisms of or alternatives to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Iran policy. The opposition hastens to praise operations of this sort so as not to be perceived, heaven forbid, as less patriotic than the right. Few politicians consider the concrete value of assassinating a single individual, who will presumably be replaced. Few ask how Israel would respond were Iranians to carry out a hit on a senior official on Israeli soil, much less one of its best scientists. And too few ask what has happened to diplomacy, why has it been removed from the toolbox.

There is a balance of terror between Israel and Iran, an arms race to obtain deterrence without any solution on the horizon. Diplomatic solutions, rather than only military ones, to an escalation must be considered. This issue currently divides Democrats and Republicans in the United States, yet in Israel any discussion of it has become completely taboo.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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