Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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How the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist can sabotage diplomacy and start a war

Trita Parsi writes:

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a key Iranian nuclear official, has been assassinated in Tehran. While it’s unclear as of this writing who is responsible, Israel has assassinated numerous Iranian nuclear scientists in the past, but had, until now, been unable to get to the highly protected Fakhrizadeh.

Some Iranian reports claim it was a suicide attack, which would reduce the likelihood of Israeli operatives carrying out the attack, but the bullet holes in Fakhrizadeh’s car cast doubt on that.

Israel has in the past, however, used operatives from the the MEK — a cult-like Iranian exile group recently removed from the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations — to conduct attacks in Iran. The MEK was the first group to conduct suicide assassinations to Iran.

But Israel is a prime suspect for several reasons: It has the expertise and capacity, has done it before, and has a motive.

While it’s highly unlikely that Israel would have carried out the assassination without a green light from the Trump administration, a more direct U.S. role cannot be entirely discounted. The Trump administration has reportedly run several joint sabotage operations with Israel against Iran’s nuclear facilities in the past year and relied in part on Israeli intelligence in carrying out the assassination of Gen. Qasem Soleimani outside the Baghdad airport last January. Earlier this month, Trump himself reportedly raised the possibility of attacking Iran with his top national-security advisers, while it was just last week that the administration’s most prominent Iran hawk, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, well as leaders of Iran’s adversaries in the Persian Gulf, notably Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In any event, conducting attacks in Iran has few downsides for Israel right now. Iran could lash out and spark a broader conflict that sucks in the United States, bringing about a U.S.-Iran confrontation that Netanyahu has long sought.

Or, if Iran sits tight to wait to deal with President-elect Joe Biden, the Trump administration is highly unlikely to impose any costs on other Israeli provocations.

Either way, the assassination (and other likely future attacks) will likely harden Iran’s position and complicate — if not ultimately cripple — the Biden team’s attempts to revive diplomacy. That serves Netanyahu’s interest as well. [Continue reading…]

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