Iran Will Wait to Avenge Assassination of Top Nuclear Scientist
Tehran’s financial, political weakness does not allow it to immediately respond to the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, experts say
Iran has vowed to respond to the killing near Tehran of its top Iranian nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, saying there are “serious indications of an Israeli role” in the slaying. But it is not clear when Iran will exact its revenge.
Former Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan, a military adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a candidate in the upcoming 2021 Iranian presidential election, tweeted: “We will strike like lightning the killers of this martyr, and we will make them regret their actions.”
Naim Qassem, the deputy secretary-general of Hizbullah – a proxy of Tehran in Lebanon – also condemned the attack, confirming that the response would come from Iran itself. “In the last days of the political life of their ally [US President Donald Trump], the Zionists seek to intensify pressure on Iran and ignite an all-out war,” he said.
Will Tehran strike Israel with missiles? No. Will it order Hizbullah to attack Israel from the north? No, because such things would set the region on fire
Nevertheless, Mideast analysts said Iran will not respond to Friday’s attack anytime soon.
Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese major-general and head of the Middle East Studies Center in Beirut, told The Media Line that Iran has to respond to the killing of its most senior nuclear scientist, but not now. “Will Tehran strike Israel with missiles? No. Will it order Hizbullah to attack Israel from the north? No, because such things would set the region on fire,” he said.
If Tehran responds immediately, it will give the American president an excuse to attack Iran, Jaber explained. “Iran hasn’t done anything thus far, as it announced that investigations are still ongoing, to have evidence that Israel was behind the operation and present it to the world.”
He said the Tehran would certainly respond, but it might happen after the January 20 handover of power to US President-elect Joe Biden.
Outgoing American President Donald Trump is ready to attack Iran and is waiting for it to give him an excuse, Jaber said.
“The Iranians are too smart to give Trump a chance to start a war against them,” he continued. “Nobody knows when Tehran will respond. Even Iran itself doesn’t know, as they are currently studying their options.”
As for Hizbullah, Jaber said, the organization would not respond on behalf of Iran, because it does not want a confrontation with the US. “If any attack took place against Americans in Lebanon, Hizbullah would be blamed, and the organization has enough issues to deal with. Iran will not use Hizbullah to carry out attacks from southern Lebanon, as Israel would respond and it would escalate into a regional war,” he said.
Jaber suggested that if Tehran responds militarily, it will be from Syrian territory, but that would not be enough. “I believe that Iran will respond to this security operation by a security operation targeting Israelis outside Israel,” he said.
Israeli reactions to the slaying of Fakhrizadeh, at least the fifth Iranian nuclear scientist to be assassinated since 2010, varied. Israel denied any connection to his death, but the army raised its level of alert on the northern borders with Lebanon and Syria in anticipation of an Iranian response.
Yaakov Amidror, a former Israeli national security adviser, told The Media Line that Tehran was surprised by the attack, and the Iranians have to “pull themselves together” and plan their actions, “which will take time for them to decide on and implement, and that’s why they didn’t respond immediately.”
Amidror pointed out that Iran needs first to know who carried out the operation. Tehran’s threat to respond is real, as the Islamic Republic has to do something after recent events, he added.
“[Al Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qasem] Soleimani was assassinated by the Americans [in Baghdad last January] and Iran didn’t react. Someone from al-Qaida [the organization’s No. 2, Abu Muhammad al-Masri, whose real name was Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah] was assassinated in Iran [in August], and they didn’t do anything. Now the head of Iran’s nuclear project was assassinated,” Amidror said.
“They have to show the world that they are furious and will react, but how is something Iranians need to decide,” he continued.
Amidror said the Iranians have few options but that they will have to choose from among them “and this is why they need time. Will they in the end find a way to react is a good question, but no one knows the answer. And will they succeed? I don’t know.”
He added that Iran probably will not act against Americans through its proxies in the region during the current delicate political transition in the US. “If they do that, it means they are desperate; it wouldn’t make sense. Hizbullah has been very clear that it’s Iran’s job to respond,” he said.
Lebanon is facing both an economic and a health crisis due to the coronavirus, he added. “If Iran uses Hizbullah [to attack Israel], the Lebanese will pay the price and the organization will lose legitimacy there. I don’t see it [Iran’s vengeance] coming from Lebanon, but they might use other places,” Amidror said.
In terms of international policy, not reacting to the attack was a reaction, as in many cases not taking a position is a position in itself
Hazem al-Shmary, a professor of political science at the University of Baghdad, told The Media Line that Soleimani’s successor as head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, Brig. Gen. Esmail Qaani, recently warned all the “resistance factions” in Iraq to refrain from harming any American targets.
“In terms of international policy, not reacting to the attack was a reaction, as in many cases not taking a position is a position in itself. In terms of Iran, given its internal and external circumstances, it can’t back itself into a critical corner” by reacting now, Shmary said.
He clarified that Tehran is facing tight financial and economic conditions because of the sanctions imposed on it by the US. “Iran is committed to extreme caution until President-elect Joe Biden takes over the administration in the US,” he said.
Tehran will wait about a year after Biden enters into office, in an effort to first obtain international approval for its nuclear project, the professor said.
He added that Iran has the right to respond, but it has to time it right. “I don’t think Iran will do anything now, as it is carefully calculating its reaction so it can improve its current difficult position,” Shmary said.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry announced that it has raised the alert level in all of its diplomatic missions around the world.
The Media Line asked Ahmed Alsyaaf, a Dubai-based writer, author and political analyst, about the possibility of Israelis being targeted in countries that recently signed peace agreements with Israel. The United Arab Emirates protects Israelis, Americans, Indians and all nationalities in the country, he responded.
“Everyone in the UAE is safe and secure, as we have the ability to protect ourselves and our visitors as well,” Alsyaaf said.
He pointed out that Iran has been threatening the UAE for 20 years and has done nothing on the ground, adding that when the US publicly acknowledged assassinating Soleimani, the backbone of the Iranian regime, “Tehran spoke of inflicting harsh blows and nothing really happened.”
Moreover, Alsyaaf questioned whether Iran had things right when it accused Israel and US of being behind Fakhrizadeh’s assassination, as perhaps the attack was carried out by internal opponents of the mullah regime. “The operation took place in the heart of Tehran. It could have been planned from inside Iran, and not abroad,” he said.