Just days after President Trump sent long-range nuclear-capable B-52 bombers in a show of strength to the Middle East, a leading Iranian nuclear physicist has been gunned down in the street.
The bomber display along Iran’s border coincided with the meeting of US, Israeli and Saudi officials on the Saudi Arabian Red Sea coast, in an unprecedented diplomatic rapprochement between the two Middle Eastern states. Flanked by fighter jets, they flew across Israeli and Jordanian air space on their way to Iran. US Central Command insisted that the planes were sent to the region “to deter aggression and reassure US partners and allies.”
But there has been widespread speculation that Trump plans to take military action against Iran before he leaves the White House or at the very least to so antagonise Iran that incoming president Biden will be unable to revive the Iran Nuclear Deal. Israel and Saudi Arabia, both implacable enemies of Iran, want the US to stay outside the Nuclear Deal and maintain the harsh economic sanctions that are imposing serious hardship on the Iranian population.
Meanwhile, the US withdrawal from the Nuclear Deal has led to the anticipated increase in Iranian nuclear enrichment, moving beyond the agreed levels. In effect, Trump knowingly sabotaged the Deal, leading to the current crisis, and opening the way to attack on Iran.
The killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh is deplorable and is widely perceived to be related to Trump’s escalation of tensions against Iran, ramped up by the Israeli government’s provocative rhetoric. Fakhrizadeh first came to public attention when he was described in the IAEA’s 2011 report on the Iranian nuclear programme as a central figure in Iran’s nuclear technology.
He was brought back to international attention in 2018 when Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, made a high profile and controversial presentation on Iran’s nuclear capabilities; he warned listeners to remember Fakhrizadeh’s name. In light of this, it is hardly surprising that many suggest that Israeli state forces have had a hand in his murder.
2020 opened with the US assassination by drone attack of the Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and is drawing to a close with the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, presumably in the interests of the US and its Middle Eastern allies.
We live in shameful times: where the US president destroyed an effective and essential Treaty, all the better to target and bring low the state abiding by its terms; and where he has carried out or condoned extra-judicial killings to further drive that state towards crisis and catastrophe. His quest to do maximum damage before leaving the White House may yet take us to conflagration in the Middle East. We must do all we can to oppose it.