Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 197, 4 December 2020

Iran: Nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh assassinated by remote-controlled gun mounted on a car
Lakshmi V Menon

In the news
On 27 November, Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh Mahabadi was assassinated, east of Tehran. According to Iran's semi-official Fars News agency, the scientist's car was sprayed with bullets by a remote-controlled machine gun operating from an adjacent car. 

Speaking at his funeral, Security chief Ali Shamkhani said the attackers "used electronic equipment." Tehran has alleged Israeli involvement in the assassination. Meanwhile, Iranian foreign minister Zarif warned of 'misinformation' over Mohsen's killing. He said a 'targeted misinformation campaign and psychological war' had commenced following the scientist's death.

Issues at large
First, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and Iran's nuclear program. During the early 2000s, Mohsen played a crucial role in the nuclear programme of Iran. Mohsen was a senior official in Iran's nuclear program and a brigadier general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of Iran. Although the Iranian government insists that the country's nuclear pursuit is purely peaceful, Western suspicion led to crippling US sanctions aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Second, the Israel factor. Israel had previously accused the scientist of covertly helping Iran in developing nuclear weapons. Despite accusations, Israel has not publicly commented on its alleged role in the assassination. However, over the past decade, Israel has been linked to such attacks in Iran.

Third, discrepancies in the Iranian narrative. Although Iranian versions of the incident have substantially changed, the Iranian media currently maintains that Mohsen was killed using weapons "controlled by satellite" or a "remote-controlled machine gun". A report even quoted witnesses as saying "three to four individuals, who are said to have been terrorists, were killed". The exploding of a nearby Nissan pickup truck, during the attack, was also reported. On 30 November, head of the Supreme National Security Council Rear Admiral Shamkhani confirmed that it was a remote attack, using "special methods". 

In perspective
First, the upcoming change in US leadership. With US Presidential candidate Joe Biden's victory, US' Middle Eastern allies are preparing for the end of the Trump-Jared Middle-east plan, which materialized the normalization of certain Middle Eastern states with Israel through the Abraham accords.

Second, the regional poles. As the regional apprehensions are becoming rife, the tussle between the conflicting blocs in the Middle East (Saudi and Iran) is worsening.

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