Iran’s supreme leader has promised to retaliate for the killing of the Islamic Republic’s top nuclear scientist, raising the threat of a new confrontation with the West and Israel.
- Iran’s Supreme Leader called for the “definitive punishment” of those behind the killing
- Israel, long suspected of killing Iranian scientists a decade ago, has yet to comment
- The killing could complicate any efforts by US President-elect Joe Biden to ease tensions with Tehran
The country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, pledged to continue the work of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who Western and Israeli Governments believe was the architect of a secret Iranian program to make nuclear weapons.
The Ayatollah called for the “definitive punishment” of those behind the killing.
Israel, long suspected of killing Iranian scientists a decade ago amid tensions over Tehran’s nuclear program, has yet to comment on the killing.
However, the attack bore the hallmarks of a carefully planned, military-style ambush.
Mr Fakhrizadeh, who had little public profile in Iran but who Israel named as a prime player in what it says is Iran’s nuclear weapons quest, was killed on Friday (local time) when he was ambushed near Tehran and his car sprayed with bullets.
He was rushed to hospital where he died.
The targeted killing could complicate any efforts by President-elect Joe Biden to revive a detente with Tehran that was forged when he was in Barack Obama’s administration.
Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the 2015 international nuclear pact agreed between Tehran and major powers.
Khamenei, who said the country has never sought nuclear arms, said on Twitter that Iranian officials must take up the task of “pursuing this crime and punishing its perpetrators and those who commanded it”.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told a televised Cabinet meeting on Saturday that Iran would respond “at the proper time”.
“Once again, the evil hands of Global Arrogance and the Zionist mercenaries were stained with the blood of an Iranian son,” he said, using terms officials employ to refer to Israel.
An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said the ministry did not comment on security regarding missions abroad, after reports from Israel’s N12 news channel said the country’s embassies had been put on high alert after the Iranian threats of retaliation.
The White House, Pentagon, US State Department and CIA have also declined to comment on the killing, as has Mr Biden’s transition team.
Under the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear work in return for the lifting of sanctions.
Once Mr Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, US sanctions were ramped up, driving down Iran’s vital oil exports and crippling the economy. Tehran, meanwhile, sped up its nuclear work.
‘Remember that name’
“The martyrdom of Fakhrizadeh will accelerate our nuclear work,” said Fereydoon Abbasi, the former head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, who survived an assassination attempt in 2010.
At least four scientists were killed between 2010 and 2012 in what Tehran said was a programme of assassinations aimed at sabotaging its nuclear energy programme.
Iran has always denied pursuing nuclear weapons, saying its aims are only peaceful.
Mr Fakhrizadeh was a central figure in a presentation by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018 accusing Iran of continuing to seek nuclear weapons.
“Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh,” Mr Netanyahu said at the time.