A member of the armed forces is suspected of involvement in last November’s assassination near Tehran of Iran’s top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the country’s intelligence minister said Monday.
“The person who carried out the first preparations for the assassination was a member of the armed forces,” Mahmoud Alavi said in an interview with state television, without elaborating.
He said it was not possible for the intelligence ministry “to keep watch over the armed forces.”
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was traveling on a highway outside the capital accompanied by a security detail on November 27 when he came under machinegun fire.
Israel and the US say Fakhrizadeh headed Iran’s rogue nuclear weapons program. According to Iranian authorities, Fakhrizadeh was a deputy defense minister and carried out work on “nuclear defense.”
Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards said a satellite-controlled gun with “artificial intelligence” was used in the attack, which Tehran blamed on Israel.
State TV’s English-language Press TV reported a weapon recovered from the scene of the attack bore “the logo and specifications of the Israeli military industry.” There were no images published of the alleged weapon in the report, which was attributed to “informed sources.”
Israel did not react to the accusation. Unveiling a trove of material brought out of Iran by the Mossad on the regime’s nuclear weapons program, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in 2018 that Fakhrizadeh was overseeing Iran’s bid for the bomb.
The killing came after months of mysterious explosions in Iran including a blast and fire that crippled an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, which is widely believed to have been an act of sabotage allegedly carried out by Israel.
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.
After the assassination of Fakhrizadeh, Iranian lawmakers approved a bill requiring Iran to resume uranium enrichment to 20 percent purity, as it had been doing before the nuclear deal, and to stock 120 kilograms (265 pounds) of uranium each year. The legislation had already been in the pipeline, but it was advanced after Fakhrizadeh was killed.
Last month, Tehran announced it was beginning to enrich uranium up to 20 percent — far beyond the 3.5% permitted under the nuclear deal, and a relatively small technical step away from the 90% needed for a nuclear weapon. Iran also said it was beginning research into uranium metal, a material that technically has civilian uses, but is seen as another likely step toward a nuclear bomb.
On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal reported that United Nations nuclear inspectors found traces of radioactive material at Iranian nuclear sites that could indicate work on nuclear weapons.
US President Joe Biden said Sunday that his administration will not agree to lift sanctions on Iran before it halts its uranium enrichment program, adding that the Islamic Republic will have to first resume compliance with the nuclear deal.
Biden’s comments drew a line in the sand in the US’s standoff with Iran, whose Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that Washington must lift all sanctions before Tehran reverses any nuclear production steps.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week that Iran was currently months away from being able to produce enough material to build a nuclear weapon. And, he said, that timeframe could be reduced to “a matter of weeks” if Tehran further violates restrictions it agreed to under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.