Biden's plans to return to the Tehran nuclear deal could possibly be thwarted by the homicide of a scientist
Iran selected Israel as the assassin, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei'The supreme leader of the nation has warned that there will be "Final punishment of the perpetrators and those who ordered it." He didn't say what that would mean. President Hassan Rouhani said the answer will come "at the right time". Sources indicate that retaliation can occur in days, weeks, or more. Israel has told its embassies to watch out for possible attacks.
Tel Aviv is unlikely to confirm whether Israel carried out or commissioned the murder of Fakhrizadeh. Parsi writes:
While it is highly unlikely that Israel would have carried out the attack without the green light from the Trump administration, a more direct US role cannot be entirely ruled out. The Trump administration has reportedly run several joint sabotage operations with Israel against the Iranian nuclear facilities last year and relied in part on Israeli intelligence services in the assassination of General Qasem Soleimani outside Baghdad airport last January. Earlier this month Trump himself reportedly raised the possibility attack Iran with its top national security advisors, while just last week the government's most prominent Iranian hawk, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, (as) as well as leaders of the Iranian opponents in the Persian Gulf, in particular Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
In the past, Israel used the MEK –the Mujahedin-e-Khalq or the People's Mujadehi – to carry out attacks, including the murder of at least four other Iranian nuclear scientists. MEK was the first group to launch suicide bombings in Iran. It was recently removed from the State Department's list of terrorist organizations despite numerous critics expressing little confidence in MEK's claims that the company no longer engages in terrorism and is democratic.
Critics of the attack noted a meeting in Saudi Arabia on Monday between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo and Mossad leader Yossi Cohen. Has there been termination or the green light given to offend Fakhrizadeh? Saudi Arabia is a long-term enemy of Iran that gives it, Israel and the United States common cause.
Although Donald Trump still manages to convince many of his supporters of his reputation as an anti-interventionist on the world stage, he has undoubtedly been a hawk in Iran since his presidential campaign. Not only did he order his staff to find excuses for withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which the Obama administration had been negotiating for 20 months. In January, he ordered a drone strike to assassinate Iranian General Qassem Suleimani, declaring that this ruthless leader was the Quds Force – the elite outer wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard –planned a major upcoming attack on US forces in Iraq. While it has always been acceptable under international law to preemptively strike against impending attacks, critics, including many Americans, said the White House's allegations of the impending attack ordered by Suleimani are vague at best.
Various Iranian leaders pledged vengeance for Suleimani, and Trump moved 3,000 more troops and deployed more ships and planes into the area after the assassination, while claiming "We took no action to start a war."
The New York Times reported this week that Trump's advisors recently advised him not to launch a military strike on Natanz, Iran's main nuclear site. This air-hardened facility operates thousands of underground centrifuges to concentrate uranium to the level needed for fuel to generate electricity.
Trump's withdrawal from the May 2018 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, deeply angry at US allies and rivals who had worked together to work out the details of the limits of Iran's nuclear development. Tehran's leaders have claimed that their nuclear program is entirely devoted to the peaceful uses of the atom. That was certainly not always the case, and despite inspections that showed Iran was fully compliant when Trump pulled the US out of the deal, some critics say Tehran's claims of peaceful intentions are false.
Since the US withdrawal, Iran has urged the British, French and Germans involved in the negotiations, along with the Chinese and Russians, to find a means to conduct financial transactions that circumvent US economic sanctions. So far, the relevant agreement has not satisfied the heads of state and government in Tehran.
Iran has also openly violated some provisions of the agreement, each time announcing in advance what it is doing and making it clear that these are steps that can be reversed.
According to the JCPOA, Iran is only allowed to store 447 pounds of low-enriched uranium – up to 3.67%. That's enough to run a power reactor, but far from the 90% or more it takes to make nuclear weapons. In early November, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors compliance with the agreement, said Iran had done so 5,385.7 pounds of uranium enriched at this level. It had also enriched some uranium to 4.5%, which was another pre-announced violation of the agreement. The International Atomic Energy Agency reported two weeks ago that Iran had also moved advanced IR-2m and IR-4 centrifuges to the Natanz site. Iran is said to only be using the older, less efficient IR-1 centrifuges of those 5,060 are allowed. This was a violation that Iran did not announce, although it did not hide the fact from the inspectors.
Whether the Biden Harris administration can initiate a return to the agreement and the limits set five years ago depends not only on the Republicans. Chuck Schumer, Chairman of the Minority Senators, Senator Bob Menendez from New Jersey, Senator Ben Cardin from Maryland, and Senator Joe Manchin III are all Democrats who spoke out against the deal when it was negotiated. There is little reason to believe that they have changed their minds. It will be a struggle to get them, at best, to a 50:50 Senate that will take place in January, despite Iran making it clear that under a Biden government it would willingly return to the boundaries of the deal. The opposing Democrats could be persuaded to support a new diplomacy if an updated or entirely new deal could be negotiated, with additional restrictions on Iranian missile development. However, this could be a deal breaker for Tehran.
If Trump becomes convinced that the nuclear scientist killing does not go far enough, and the advisors who kept him from striking Natanz wrong, and he decides to order one, the chances of a diplomatic resolution from Biden will diminish . Not good news for America or Iran, but definitely the kind of political destruction that trumps Trump's ego.