Assassination Of Iran’s Top Nuclear Scientist Threatens Biden’s Hopes For Re-Entering Nuclear Deal

Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was shot and killed in an ambush on Friday, November 27th in the Damavand region of Iran. According to Iranian state media, Fakhrizadeh was attacked while travelling by car on a rural road in Absard, a suburb situated about 70 km east of the country’s capital, Tehran. While no one has claimed responsibility for the attack yet, Iranian officials blame Israel. The murder comes at a time when tensions between the United States and Iran are magnified as a result of the Trump administration, whose withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and subsequent implementation of strict sanctions increased global anxiety about a potential war.

While Israeli Cabinet Minister for Settlement Affairs Tzachi Henagbi claims he has “no clue who did it,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the country’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have both accused Israel of being responsible for the assassination. “This cowardice — with serious indications of Israeli role — shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators,” Zarif tweeted early Friday morning. There is currently no evidence of Israel’s involvement, but Iranian officials have vowed revenge. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei and Chief of Staff for the Armed Forces Mohammad Bagheri have both made that clear, promising the “definitive punishment of the perpetrators and those who ordered it.” “We will not rest until we track down and take revenge on those responsible for the assassination of martyr Fakhrizadeh,” the Iranian officials said.

According to the New York Times, protesters could be seen gathering outside President Rouhani’s residence only hours after Fakhrizadeh’s assassination, calling for retaliation and an end to negotiation with the United States. Many view Israel as the United States’ closest Middle Eastern ally and have taken to burning both their flags.

With Joe Biden’s pending arrival in the White House, the timing of Fakhrizadeh’s killing is not surprising – the United States had long suspected Fakhrizadeh, a physics professor as well as a brigadier general in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, of possessing key information regarding the country’s nuclear capacities. Biden’s administration hopes to re-enter the nuclear deal with Iran, effectively lifting the current sanctions imposed by Trump and returning to the previous agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Fakhrizadeh’s assassination, however, is likely to complicate any potential for reviving the deal, as the United States still expects Iranian retaliation for General Qassem Soleimani’s assassination back in January. Given Khamenei and Bagheri’s statements and the mounting frustration among the country’s civilians, it is only a matter of time before Iran violently retaliates.

A call for more violence would only exacerbate an already tense relationship between the United States and Iran, placing the Biden administration in a difficult position as his inauguration draws near. However, reviving the nuclear arms deal would surely ease tensions and create some stability between the two countries, as well as relieve some of the anxieties surrounding Iran’s current ability to develop a nuclear weapon — something that could lead to an unimaginably catastrophic outcome if American-Iranian relations fall apart.