Speaking at the funeral of a top Iranian nuclear scientist who was killed in an assassination widely blamed on Israel, Iran’s defense minister warned on Monday that Tehran would not leave the killing unavenged.
“The enemy knows full well that he cannot commit a crime without getting a response from the Iranian people. The martyr’s blood will be remembered forever and the enemy made a mistake with this assassination,” said Defense Minister Gen. Amir Hatami, according to Hebrew-language reports, after kissing Mohsen Fakhrizadeh’s casket and putting his forehead against it.
“The assassination of the scientist will not stop the progress of Iran’s nuclear program but will only accelerate it. The response will come with certainty.” Hatami said.
He said Fakhrizadeh’s killing would make Iranians “more united, more determined.”
“For the continuation of your path, we will continue with more speed and more power,” Hatami said at the funeral in an outdoor area of the Defense Ministry in Iran’s capital, Tehran.
Hatami also criticized countries that hadn’t condemned Fakhrizadeh’s killing, warning: “This will catch up with you someday.”
Among the countries that have denounced the killing is the United Arab Emirates, which recently established diplomatic relations with Israel in a deal touted as having been accelerated by the countries’ shared concerns over Iran.
The funeral got underway with a religious singer praising Fakhrizadeh and alluding to the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, a revered 7th century holy figure from whom Shiite Muslims draw inspiration.
A large display showed a picture of Fakhrizadeh next to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as the late top general Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a January airstrike by the US in Baghdad.
The funeral was closed to the public in order to maintain health protocols over the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to the defense ministry.
As well as Hatami, the funeral was also attended by Revolutionary Guards chief Hossein Salami and the Guard’s Quds Force leader Gen. Esmail Ghaani, along with civilian nuclear program chief Ali Akbar Sahei and Intelligence Minister Mamoud Alavi.
The Quds Force is the Guards’ foreign operations unit, named for the Arabic word for Jerusalem, and supports forces allied with Iran around the region, such as Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime and Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group. Reports on Saturday said Israel had raised alertness in its embassies around the world in the wake of the assassination, and that Jewish communities were also taking precautions.
As part of the procession before the funeral, Fakhrizadeh’s remains were taken to holy Shiite shrines in the northeastern city of Mashhad and Qom in central Iran, as well as the shrine of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ruhollah Khomeini, in Tehran.
Fakhrizadeh, the scientist said by Israel and the US to head Iran’s rogue nuclear weapons program, was killed in a military-style ambush Friday on the outskirts of Tehran, which reportedly saw a truck bomb explode and gunmen open fire on the scientist.
A report on Sunday by the semi-official Fars agency said the assassination was carried out from afar using a remote-controlled machine gun attached to a car. According to the news site, the entire operation was conducted with no human agents whatsoever, a significantly different description of the attack than had been previously presented. The account was not attributed to official sources and was not immediately confirmed by Iran. A number of defense analysts cast doubts on the Fars report.
A London-based Iranian journalist claimed late Sunday that Iran had distributed pictures of four suspects in the killing and was asking hotel owners to immediately inform intelligence agents if they had seen them.
Iran has blamed Israel for the attack. Israel, long suspected of killing Iranian nuclear scientists over the last decade, has declined to comment on the killing.
The United Nations and European Union criticized the operation — without naming Israel — saying it inflamed tensions in the region. Some American Democrats also spoke out against the raid, saying it appeared to be an effort to hobble efforts by US President-elect Joe Biden to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal, a move that Jerusalem staunchly opposes along with several Sunni Arab states.
Iran has already suffered several devastating attacks this year, including the killing of Soleimani in a US drone strike in January, and a mysterious explosion and fire that crippled an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at the Natanz facility, which is widely believed to have been an act of sabotage.
In response to the assassination, the Iranian parliament on Sunday passed a number of emergency motions including a bill requiring the Atomic Energy Organization to increase the monthly output of enriched uranium for “various peaceful purposes,” the Iranian Tasnim News Agency reported.
The bill demands that the atomic agency stockpile at least 120 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20 percent at the Fordo nuclear facility, and increase enrichment at Natanz as well. The move, which must still be ratified, would be the latest violation of enrichment curbs set out by the 2015 nuclear deal.
Lawmakers, who kicked off the Sunday session with chants of “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” also issued a statement demanding that Iran restrict access to UN inspectors at nuclear sites, according to Iranian media.
Analysts have said Fakhrizadeh was on par with Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist who led America’s Manhattan Project in World War II that created the atom bomb.
Fakhrizadeh was named by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018 as the director of Iran’s nuclear weapons project. When Netanyahu revealed then that Israel had removed from a warehouse in Tehran a vast archive of Iran’s own material detailing its nuclear weapons program, he said: “Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh.”
Israel has long been suspected of carrying out a series of targeted killings of Iranian nuclear scientists nearly a decade ago, in a bid to curtail Iran’s nuclear program. It has made no official comment on the matter. Israeli TV coverage noted that Friday’s attack was far more complex than any of those previous incidents.
Agencies contributed to this report.