On Friday, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, “the architect of Tehran’s nuclear strategy” was assassinated, creating a hazardous increase in tensions in the Middle East. The implications of this assassination are far-reaching and will likely have a detrimental effect on international security, as the event jeopardises future negotiations planned to reinstate the Iran nuclear deal.
The Iran nuclear deal entailed that Iran would limit its nuclear activities and permit international inspectors to investigate its activities in exchange for the removal of economic sanctions which were devastating Iran’s economy. In 2018, however, Trump unilaterally pulled the U.S. out of the deal and, in turn, last year Iran began withdrawing from the commitments it made in the deal.
Biden promised that he would seek to revive the Iran nuclear deal which Trump recklessly withdrew from two years ago, however, Biden’s aspirations have just been substantially hindered. It was inevitable that Biden would face strong congressional opposition, however, the assassination of Fakhrizadeh and the assassination of General Soleimani have both been significant steps backward from international security, widening the diplomatic fissure between the U.S. and Iran, as well as within the Middle East itself.
Israel’s Intelligence Minister, Eli Cohen, has officially stated that he has no knowledge of who enacted the assassination. An anonymous senior Israeli official contradicted this though, divulging that they participated in tracking Iranian nuclear activities and, when speaking to the New York Times, stated that “Iran’s aspirations for nuclear weapons, promoted by Mr. Fakhrizadeh, posed such a menace that the world should thank Israel”. Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, however, insists that his country’s nuclear development is focused upon energy innovation, not a military objective.
Ultimately, irreconcilable diplomatic division has seemingly always been the goal of Israel’s leader, Benjamin Netanyahu though. Trita Parsi, executive vice-president of the Washington-based Quincy Institute think-tank, noted that Netanyahu had been aiming to force the U.S. into a direct confrontation with Iran for some time by actively obstructing diplomacy.
John Brennan, former CIA director, acknowledged the severity of potential repercussions from Iran, stating that the act was both “criminal” and “highly reckless”, advising that Iran should wait for “the return of responsible American leadership” before making any definitive decisions about retaliation. If Iran does retaliate before the U.S. transition of power in January, Trump will have a foundation upon which to issue a return strike before his exit from office, essentially sabotaging Biden’s chances of diplomatic resolution and a return to the nuclear deal with Iran.
Trump has only contributed to the tension, showing his implicit support for Israel by retweeting an Israeli journalist who assessed the assassination as a “major psychological and professional blow for Iran”. The Trump administration has made no official condemnation of the assassination yet, and, given that Secretary of State Pompeo was recently in Israel, the optics of the situation do not shed an optimistic light on the Trump administration’s final weeks in office. Speculation around the possibility that Trump is working with Israeli and Saudi allies to bring the Tehran regime into confrontation has ensued as a result of the unprecedented meeting between Pompeo, Netanyahu, and Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The fact that the content of the meeting remains undisclosed further fuels the idea that it centered around provoking Iran so as to seemingly justify an attack on its nuclear facilities prior to Biden’s inauguration in January. The culmination of “sabotage attacks” by the U.S. and Israel inside Iran under the Trump administration lead one to question whether Trump’s motive is solely to hinder any future negotiations about a nuclear deal, or if Trump is seeking to have at least one subjective victory before leaving office. Tisdall noted Trump’s egoistic motivations, suggesting that Trump’s poor leadership in the matter of the Middle East have all been as a means to secure a legacy of being the “scourge of Iran and saviour of Israel”.