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Minister chides EU for condemning killing of top Iran nuclear scientist

But Eli Cohen refrains from saying Israel responsible; UK, Oman, Turkey also denounce assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh

In this picture released by the Iranian Defense Ministry and taken on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020, caretakers from the Imam Reza holy shrine, carry the flag draped coffin of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an Iranian scientist linked to the country's disbanded military nuclear program, who was killed on Friday, during a funeral ceremony in the northeastern city of Mashhad, Iran.  (Iranian Defense Ministry via AP)
In this picture released by the Iranian Defense Ministry and taken on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020, caretakers from the Imam Reza holy shrine, carry the flag draped coffin of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an Iranian scientist linked to the country's disbanded military nuclear program, who was killed on Friday, during a funeral ceremony in the northeastern city of Mashhad, Iran. (Iranian Defense Ministry via AP)

The United Kingdom, Turkey and Oman on Sunday joined the chorus of international condemnation over the assassination of a senior Iranian nuclear scientist, as an Israeli minister criticized Europe for its denunciation of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh’s killing.

Fakhrizadeh, dubbed the father of Iran’s nuclear weapons program by the US and Israel, was killed on Friday in an ambush in Absard, a village just east of Tehran, as his vehicle neared a truck that exploded when he approached. Local reports then described a barrage of automatic gunfire as gunmen emerged from a nearby car. A firefight erupted between the assassins and Fakhrizadeh’s bodyguards. The attackers killed Fakhrizadeh and at least three of the guards before escaping.

The killing drew criticism from European and Arab states, as well as the United Nations. It has been widely blamed on Israel, which has not taken responsibility.

Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen, in an interview with Army Radio, said he did not know who was responsible for the death of Fakhrizadeh. But he censured European states for condemning the killing, saying they were well aware of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and violations of agreements with world powers.

Eli Cohen at the Ministry of Economy in Jerusalem, May 18, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We see them again burying their heads in the sand,” he said, referring to the EU, which had called the killing a “criminal act.”

Cohen also told Army Radio that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not hinting at Israeli involvement in the killing when he released a statement in which he boasted about not being able to speak about all of his achievements.

“He was referring to his talks with countries Israel has no ties with,” he said, seemingly alluding to the premier’s secret trip to Saudi Arabia.

Cohen said he is not shedding any tears over the death of Fakhrizadeh.

“His removal from the world contributed to the Middle East and the whole world. Anyone who takes an active part in creating a nuclear weapon is a dead man walking,” he warned.

UK, Turkey, Oman condemn raid

On Sunday, Britain’s Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said London was “concerned” about the possible escalation of tensions in the Middle East following the assassination.

“We are concerned about the situation in Iran and the wider region we do want to see de-escalation of tensions,” Raab told Sky News when asked about the killing.

In this cropped photo, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh sits in a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, Iran, January 23, 2019. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

“We’re still waiting to see the full facts, to address the full facts of what’s happened in Iran but I would say that we stick to the rule of international humanitarian law which is very clear against targeting civilians,” added Raab.

Turkey said Sunday that the killing was an act of “terrorism” that “upsets peace in the region.”

“We regret the death of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh following an armed attack. We condemn this heinous murder and offer our condolences to the Iranian government and the dead man’s relatives,” Ankara’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

“Turkey is against all initiatives aimed at disrupting peace in the region and against all forms of terrorism, no matter who their perpetrator or target are.”

Ankara also urged “all parties to act with common sense and restraint.”

Oman’s Foreign Minister Badr al-Busaidi phoned his Iranian counterpart to condemn the killing, saying it was “against humanitarian and international laws,” according to Reuters.

Germany’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Saturday urging restraint and calling on “all parties to refrain from any steps that could lead to a further escalation of the situation,” Reuters reported.

Earlier Saturday, both Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani vowed to respond to the slaying, with Rouhani directly blaming Israel for the assassination.

US officials and most world leaders remained mum on the slaying as of Sunday, while the UN called for restraint and the former head of the CIA said the assassination was “highly reckless.”

Fakhrizadeh led Iran’s so-called AMAD program that Israel and the West have alleged was a military operation looking at the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon.

Though Israel has not taken responsibility for the killing, an unnamed Israeli official told The New York Times on Saturday that the world should thank Israel for assassinating Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons mastermind.

Fakhrizadeh was named by 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 with its nuclear weapons program, he said: “Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh.”

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