Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Monday claimed that Israel was behind the recent killing of a scientist alleged to have founded the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program in the 2000s, in an effort to start a war in the last days of US President Donald Trump’s administration.
Rouhani’s comments in a news conference marked the first time he has directly accused the Jewish state of being behind the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh late last month.
Israel, long suspected of killing Iranian nuclear scientists over the last decade, has repeatedly declined to comment on the attack.
“Waging instability and war in the final days of the Trump administration was the main aim of the Zionist regime in the assassination,” Rouhani said.
Rouhani vowed to avenge the killing but said his country would not allow Israel to decide the “time or venue“ of any retaliatory action. He said Iran would not allow instability in the region.
Significant move by Rouhani administration to disclose for the first time unseen photos of awarding #Fakhrizadeh with Order of Service for his role in 2015 nuclear deal. Rouhani's team has decided to reveal the secret after hardliners' attacks against gov't and the JCPOA pic.twitter.com/jYpH2Oxa1U
— Reza Khaasteh (@Reza_Khaasteh) December 1, 2020
Fakhrizadeh headed Iran’s so-called AMAD program, which Israel and the West have alleged was a military operation looking at the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon. The International Atomic Energy Agency says that “structured program” ended in 2003. US intelligence agencies concurred with that assessment in a 2007 report.
After the killing of Fakhrizadeh, top Iranian security official Ali Shamkhani accused Israel of using “electronic devices” to remotely kill the scientist.
Israel insists Iran still maintains the ambition of developing nuclear weapons, pointing to Tehran’s ballistic missile program and research into other technologies. Iran long has maintained that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Fakhrizadeh was named by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018 as the director of Iran’s rogue 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.”
Fakhrizadeh was also an officer in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, designated by the US as a terrorist organization.
Rouhani also referred Monday to the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, from which Trump removed the US in 2018. “We believe the situation will be changed under the new US administration,” he said.
President-elect Joe Biden has said the US could potentially return to the nuclear deal.
In November, Elliott Abrams, the US special representative for Iran, insisted that a pressure campaign of sanctions targeting Iran — for human rights violations, its ballistic missile program and its regional influence — would continue into the Biden administration.
“The missile program and regional issues have no link to the nuclear deal,” Rouhani said Monday. “These are not matters of discussion, at all.”
Rouhani also said the reaction of the European Union to Saturday’s execution of Iranian journalist Ruhollah Zam, whose work helped inspire nationwide economic protests in 2017, was an “intervention” in Iran’s domestic affairs.
Iran on Sunday summoned the German and French envoys to Tehran after the European Union condemned the execution by hanging of Zam.
Rouhani said the case was handled according to the Iranian law. “A court has reviewed the case and issued the verdict. We do act in the framework of our regulations.”
However, he said he believes the case would not harm Iran’s relations with Europe.
Zam, 47, had been imprisoned in Iran after Iranian authorities seized him while he was traveling in neighboring Iraq last year. He had been living in exile in France before that.
The German Foreign Ministry on Saturday expressed shock at the circumstances of Zam’s sentencing and what it described as his “abduction from abroad” and forced return to Iran.
“This is a barbarous and unacceptable act,” the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement, which condemned the hanging as a “grave blow” to freedom of speech in Iran.
Zam’s website, AmadNews, and a channel he created on the popular messaging app Telegram had reported the timings of the 2017 protests and embarrassing information about officials that directly challenged Iran’s Shiite theocracy.
Zam is one of three opposition figures apparently detained in intelligence operations abroad in the last two years.