Top Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated in November by a Mossad team using a one-ton automated weapon that had been smuggled into Iran in pieces, according to a Wednesday report in London’s Jewish Chronicle.
The US was not involved in the operation, which may have set back the rogue Iranian nuclear weapons program by years, the report said.
The veracity of the report could not be independently confirmed.
Apparently based at least in part on unnamed Israeli sources, the report appeared timed to send a message both to Iran, which is openly breaching the 2015 P5+1 nuclear deal, and to the new US administration, which is planning to re-enter the deal, highlighting Israel’s oft-stated determination to take whatever action is necessary to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons.
Fakhrizadeh was killed on a road outside Tehran on November 27. Iran has blamed Israel for the hit.
The team that carried out the hit had over 20 members, both Israeli and Iranian nationals, the Jewish Chronicle reported, citing “intelligence sources.” At least some of those sources were evidently Israeli; one was quoted saying, “Thank God we got all our people out and they didn’t catch anyone. They didn’t even come close.”
The agents surveilled Fakhrizadeh for eight months before the assassination, the report claimed.
It said agents were on the ground at the time of the assassination to operate the gun from a distance.
The report claimed Fakhrizadeh was hit by a burst of 13 bullets from the “hyper-accurate” weapon, which did not injure his wife or 12 bodyguards who were traveling with him. Some of the numerous contradictory reports of the killing at the time, by contrast, claimed several of Fakhrizadeh’s bodyguards were also killed in the attack.
The weapon was mounted on the back of a Nissan truck and detonated to destroy evidence after the assassination, the report claimed. “The bespoke weapon, operated remotely by agents on the ground as they observed the target, was so heavy because it included a bomb that destroyed the evidence after the killing,” it added.
The US was not involved in the assassination, the report said. The Americans were given only a “little clue.”
It further asserted that Israeli analysts believe Fakhrizadeh’s killing has extended the time Iran would need to construct a nuclear weapon, if it decides to break out for the bomb, from 3.5 months to some 2-5 years. Furthermore, it said, Iran has “secretly assessed that it will take six years” before a replacement for Fakhrizadeh is “fully operational.”
Publication of the report came as Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing off against the new administration in the US, with President Joe Biden having said he intends to re-enter the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal negotiated under president Barack Obama, an agreement from which president Donald Trump withdrew. Netanyahu, who publicly lobbied against the 2015 deal, has warned Biden that it would be a “mistake” and “folly” for the US to rejoin the JCPOA.
“There is no doubt that whatever approach the Americans take with Iran, Israel will ‘defend itself by itself,'” the Wednesday report said, and quoted an anonymous but plainly Israeli source saying: “Our main strategy for leverage over the United States is to present our 2018 intelligence to the IAEA. But if it doesn’t work, we will act. The US won’t love it, but we will keep our sovereignty and fight every existential threat… If the situation becomes critical, we will ask nobody for permission. We will kill the bomb.”
The report’s details of the Fakhrizadeh hit appear to at least partially accord with Iranian media claims after the killing that it was carried out from afar using a remote-controlled machine gun attached to a car.
Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said a satellite-controlled gun with “artificial intelligence” was used in the attack.
The Jewish Chronicle report said the planning of the assassination began after the Mossad stole a trove of documents from a Tehran warehouse on Iran’s nuclear program, in an operation publicized by Netanyahu in 2018.
In a companion piece Wednesday for the Spectator magazine, Jake Wallis Simons, the journalist who wrote the Jewish Chronicle article, elaborated that Fakhrizadeh’s centrality to the rogue Iranian nuclear weapons program was underlined by the discovery that documents in the trove “were found to have been handwritten” by him, and some had his fingerprints “literally” all over them. Fakhrizadeh, the writer said he was told, “was found to be the architect of everything in the archive. He was directing all aspects [of the Iranian program], from the science and the secret sites to the personnel and the knowhow. From that moment – to use Mossad slang – it became clear that the scientist had to ‘depart’.”
There have been various reports describing how Fakhrizadeh was killed, including by a team of shooters on the ground and remote weapons controlled by satellites.
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.”
Iranian officials have blamed Israel for the killing. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif claimed there were “serious indications of [an] Israeli role” in the assassination. Israel has not publicly reacted to the accusations.
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.
Iran’s intelligence minister said Monday that a member of the armed forces is suspected of involvement in Fakhrizadeh’s killing.
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.”
In a video uploaded to Twitter hours after news of the killing emerged, Netanyahu, counting off various achievements of the week, noted that this was “a partial list, as I can’t tell you everything… It’s all for you, citizens of Israel, for our country. It’s a week of achievements, and there’ll be more.”
Wednesday’s report quoted one source warning that additional such operations were in prospect: “Further assassinations were planned for the future, the source said, though nothing on the same scale as Fakhrizadeh or [Qassem] Soleimani” — the head of the Quds Force of Iran’s IRGC who was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad in January 2020.