Former CIA Director John Brennan slammed the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist as “criminal and highly reckless” but urged Iranian leaders via Twitter to wait for “responsible American leadership” to return before responding.
Nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, 59, died Friday in an ambush on the road between Absard and Tehran. Iranian state TV said explosives hidden in a pickup truck exploded in front of his car and six gunmen from another car opened fire, the New York Times reported.
Fakhrizadeh was considered the driving force behind Iran’s nuclear weapons program for 20 years and part of Iran’s covert push for nuclear weapons, according to U.S. intelligence and Iranian nuclear documents stolen by Israel.
Brennan, who served as CIA director from 2013 to 2017, tweeted that the assassination “risks lethal retaliation & a new round of regional conflict.”
Fakhrizadeh was shot and killed by “armed terrorist elements,” according to Iranian state media. Several Iranian officials blamed Israel for the killing on Friday, The Hill reported.
Iran accused Israel of trying to provoke a war by assassinating Fakhrizadeh, who was described by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the father of Iran’s nuclear program.
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Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Saturday that his first priority was the “definitive punishment of the perpetrators and those who ordered it,” Associated Press reported.
“I do not know whether a foreign government authorized or carried out the murder of Fakhrizadeh,” Brennan tweeted. “Such an act of state-sponsored terrorism would be a flagrant violation of international law & encourage more governments to carry out lethal attacks against foreign officials.”
A U.S. official and two other intelligence officials confirmed to the New York Times that Israel was behind the attack.
“It was unclear how much the United States may have known about the operation in advance, but (Israel and the U.S.) are the closest of allies and have long shared intelligence regarding Iran,” New York Times reported.
Iran said it has the right to defend itself. Hossein Dehghan, a presidential candidate in Iran’s 2021 election and adviser to supreme leader Ali Khamenei, issued a warning to Israel.
“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, apparently in reference to President Donald Trump’s last days in office, AFP and Daily Mail reported. “We will descend like lightning on the killers of this oppressed martyr and we will make them regret their actions.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani promised retaliation “at the proper time.”
In a letter to the U.N. Security Council on Friday, Iranian envoy Majid Takht Ravanchi warned “against any adventuristic measures by the United States and Israel against my country, particularly during the remaining period of the current administration of the United States in office, the Islamic Republic of Iran reserves its rights to take all necessary measures to defend its people and secure its interests.”
Former CIA director Brennan urged Iranian leaders to “be wise” and “wait for the return of responsible American leadership on the global stage & to resist the urge to respond against perceived culprits.”
Fakhrizadeh’s assassination could complicate the effort of President-elect Joseph R. Biden to revive the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, which he promised to do if the Iranians agree to return to the limits detailed in the accord.
Under the 2015 Iran Nuclear accord, Iran agreed to limit nuclear activities and allow international inspectors into the country in return for economic sanctions being lifted. The deal was signed by the P5+1 coutries — the U.S., U.K., France, China, Russia and Germany. It was opposed by Israel.
It was the signature foreign policy achievement of President Barack Obama, New York Times reported. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement in 2018, isolating the U.S. from Western allies who tried to keep it intact. Then Trump re-imposed sanctions on Iran and added more to try and force it back to the bargaining table. That did not work.
Fakhrizadeh’s death came two weeks after Al Qaeda’s second-in-command was shot and killed in Tehran by Israeli assassins on a motorcycle on Aug. 7, at the request of the U.S. Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah was killed with his daughter, Miriam, widow of Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza bin Laden.
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Assassinations against Iranian scientists “are far different than strikes against terrorist leaders & operatives of groups like al-Qaida & Islamic State, which are not sovereign states,” Brennan tweeted. “As illegitimate combatants under international law, they can be targeted in order to stop deadly terrorist attacks.”
Less than a week after he lost the Nov. 3 election, Trump fired his secretary of defense Mark T. Esper and other top Pentagon aides. Defense Department and other national security officials said privately they were concerned that Trump might start a war with Iran or other adversaries at the end of his term.
Others speculated that Netanyahu might want to strike Iran while Trump is still in office.
Trump’s top advisers including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff argued against a military strike against Iran, according to the New York Times.