Top Iranian officials on Friday pointed to Israel as the likely culprit in the assassination of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, with some vowing revenge for the death of the man Jerusalem has pointed to as the head of the country’s nuclear weapons program.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif claimed there were “serious indications of [an] Israeli role” in the assassination.
“Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today. This cowardice — with serious indications of Israeli role — shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators,” Zarif wrote on Twitter.
He also called on the international community to “end their shameful double standards and condemn this act of state terror.”
Hossein Dehghan, an adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and a presidential candidate in Iran’s 2021 election, issued a warning on Twitter.
“In the last days of their gambling ally’s political life, the Zionists seek to intensify and increase pressure on Iran to wage a full-blown war,” Dehghan wrote, appearing to refer to US President Donald Trump. “We will descend like lightning on the killers of this oppressed martyr and we will make them regret their actions!”
Iran’s military chief Mohammad Bagheri accused “the malicious Zionist entity of committing a brutal act.” He said Fakhrizadeh’s death was “a “major blow to the Iranian defense system.”
But Bagheri promised that “the path started by the likes of Fakhrizadeh will not stop” and said that “terrorist groups, commanders and elements involved in this cowardly act [should know] a difficult retaliation awaits them.”
Hossein Salami, chief commander of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guards, tweeted: “Assassinating nuclear scientists is the most violent confrontation to prevent us from reaching modern science.”
Yadollah Javani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards’ political bureau, said that “the Zionists are behind many of these assassinations.”
Claiming Iran was “one of the main victims of terrorism” in the world, Javani lamented that “the United States and European countries also support the Zionist regime… Countries that ostensibly claim to fight terrorists but in practice support terrorists.”
Hezbollah deputy leader Naim Qassem sent his condolences to Iran, stating that “The response to this crime is in the hands of Iran. It is a matter of honor.”
He added: “This action is part of the war on Iran, on the region and on Palestine.”
Israel declined to immediately comment on the killing of Fakhrizadeh, who Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once called out in a news conference saying: “Remember that name.” Israel has long been suspected of carrying out a series of targeted killings of Iranian nuclear scientists nearly a decade ago.
State TV said Fakhrizadeh was attacked by “armed terrorist elements.” He died at a local hospital after doctors and parademics couldn’t revive him.
The semiofficial Fars news agency, believed to be close to the country’s Revolutionary Guard, said the attack happened in Absard, a small city just east of the capital, Tehran. It said witnesses heard the sound of an explosion and then machine gunfire. The attack targeted a car that Fakhrizadeh was in, the agency said.
Others wounded, including Fakhrizadeh’s bodyguards, also were taken to a local hospital, the agency said.
The killing comes just days before the 10-year anniversary of the killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari, which Tehran also blamed on Israel. Those targeted killings came alongside the so-called Stuxnet virus, believed to be an Israeli and American creation, that destroyed Iranian centrifuges.
Fakhrizadeh led Iran’s so-called “Amad,” or “Hope” program. Israel and the West have alleged it was a military operation looking at the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon in Iran. Tehran long has maintained its nuclear program is peaceful.
The International Atomic Energy Agency says Iran “carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device” in a “structured program” through the end of 2003. That was the Amad program, which included work on the carefully timed high explosives needed to detonate a nuclear bomb.
Iran also “conducted computer modeling of a nuclear explosive device” before 2005 and between 2005 and 2009, the IAEA has said. The agency said, however, that those calculations were “incomplete and fragmented.”
Netanyahu asserted in 2018 that Fakhrizadeh continued to lead Iran’s nuclear weapons efforts, despite the 2015 nuclear deal meant to prevent Tehran from constructing such weapons.
Fakhrizadeh’s assassination comes less than two months before Joe Biden is to take office as US president.
Biden has promised a return to diplomacy with Iran after four hawkish years under incumbent US President Donald Trump, who withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and began reimposing crippling sanctions.
Trump said at the time that the deal did not offer sufficient guarantees to stop Tehran from acquiring an atomic bomb.