(JTA) — Assassins shot to death Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the nuclear scientist that western intelligence agencies believe to be behind Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
The assassination came two years after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said about Fakhrizadeh, “remember his name.” Iranian media blamed Israel’s Mossad spy agency for the killing.
Iran’s defense ministry confirmed Friday earlier reports of a drive-by shooting in the Iranian countryside. There was an exchange of gunfire with Fakhrizadeh’s bodyguards.
Western intelligence agencies have long named Fakhrizadeh as the man behind Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Iran says its nuclear development is only for peaceful purposes and that Fakhrizadeh is a professor. In 2018, Israel unveiled documents it acquired that showed Iran had at least at one point planned a weapons program, and that Fakhrizadeh was involved in its development.
The killing comes at a delicate time in U.S. foreign policy: President Donald Trump has resisted coordinating policy with the man who defeated him in presidential elections Nov. 3, Joe Biden. There are signs that Trump is ramping up tensions with Iran, perhaps as a means of frustrating Biden’s pledged to return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which Trump abandoned in 2018.
Israel may also be eager to seize the opportunity of the interregnum to take tough measures against Iran that Israeli leaders believe Biden would discourage.
Earlier this week, top Israeli, Saudi and U.S. officials met in Saudi Arabia, a first for the country which does not have relations with Israel. Israeli Mossad chief Yossi Cohen was reportedly in attendance. Israel has drawn closer with Sunni Arab states in recent years, spurred by a shared enmity with Iran.