A top Iranian scientist was assassinated near Tehran in an ambush on Friday, Iranian state media first reported. Israel has previously alleged the scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, headed an Iranian military nuclear program.
In a statement, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif condemned the attack and said there are “serious indications” of an Israeli role in the assassination. In 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called out Fakhrizadeh at a news conference and said, “remember that name.”
“Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today. This cowardice—with serious indications of Israeli role—shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators,” Zarif wrote on Twitter.
The New York Times cited three anonymous officials who said Israel was behind Fakhrizadeh’s assassination.
Fakhrizadeh purportedly headed Iran’s Amad Project, a nuclear program the US and Israel claimed was a military operation. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and US intelligence, the Amad Project was halted in 2003.
Israel is believed to be responsible for a series of assassinations of Iranian scientists that mainly took place between 2010 and 2012. While Israel has not officially acknowledged its role, Israeli officials have hinted that they were behind the killings. So far, Israeli officials have not commented on Fakhrizadeh’s death.
The killing comes at a time of heightened tensions in the region. Earlier this month, reports said President Trump reviewed options to strike an Iranian nuclear site. Since then, Israel has leaked stories about their preparedness for a US attack on Iran, and there has been an uptick in Israeli airstrikes against what they call Iranian linked targets in Syria.
For their part, Iran is urging its allies in the region to exercise caution, hoping to avoid a military confrontation with the US before Trump is out of office.
Both the Israelis and the Trump administration are hoping to sabotage a future Biden administration’s efforts to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Trump reviewed options to bomb Iran after the IAEA this week reported Iran was further violating the JCPOA.
Since the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, Iran has gradually violated some limitations of the deal to gain leverage for future negotiations. All the violations are minor and easily reversible, but the Trump administration and Israel are using the IAEA report to hype the threat of Iran’s nuclear program.
A report from Middle East Eye published Friday says Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to convince Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to agree to an attack on an Iranian nuclear facility during a secret meeting on Sunday.