Iran has suffered two major blows this year – one for the year and the other for the end of the year; once for senior military officials and once for nuclear scientists:
On January 3, Suleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps “Quds Brigade”, was attacked and killed in Iraq; on November 27, Fahrizad, an Iranian nuclear scientist who is regarded as the “Iranian version of Robert Oppenheimer”, was assassinated.
Technically, the two assassinations have little substantive impact on Iran’s continued maintenance and strengthening of the “axis of resistance” (what Israel calls the “Shiite corridor”, which is carried out by the “Quds Brigade”) and advancing its nuclear program throughout the Middle East. Suleimani’s successor Ismail Kani will continue to advance his unfinished business, and a new generation of Iranian scientists have long been educated, trained and worked in a more advanced and mature project than the project started by Fahrizad more than 20 years ago.
But for the situation in the Middle East, the killing of two generals is undoubtedly two “shocking bombs”.
The United States has “claimed” the assassination of Suleimani; and no one has publicly admitted the assassination of Fahrizad. So who is the murderer?
“The enemy has used a new approach, style, and a professional and specialized approach to successfully achieving its goals,” said Ali Shamhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, when he was buried for the scientist. Iran’s Farz news agency reported that Fahrizad’s convoy was attacked by a long-range (satellite) remote control machine gun on a Nissan pickup truck. Iranian English News TV reported that fragments at the scene showed that Israeli weapons were used to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists.
In addition, Netanyahu showed Fahrizad’s photo at a press conference in April 2018, and also said “You remember this name”. After the assassination, the Israeli Prime Minister wrote on social media: “I have done a lot this week, but I can’t say it all.” The media interpreted his implication.
From the process of events disclosed by Iranian officials and the media, the preparation and transshipment of a large number of weapons, the use of high-tech, professional operation planning and strong intelligence support have gradually narrowed the scope of suspects. Coupled with the “exil record” of the murder of several Iranian scientists by Israel’s “Mosad” since 2007, Iran believes that Israel was the one who planned the assassination and vowed revenge.
how will Iran retaliate?
The possibility of direct large-scale military confrontation is obviously minimal, but Iran does have the strength to fight. According to a commentary by Newsweek in the United States, Iran has the largest and most advanced missile arsenal and the largest standing army in the Middle East, and has the status of a military power.
Iran’s missile arsenal is daunting. Its missile range not only covers major U.S. military targets in the Middle East (which has been demonstrated in the revenge operation after Suleimani’s assassination), but also has the ability to attack European targets. In addition, Iran’s large number of artillery, drones and armed speedboats also gives it considerable asymmetrical combat power.” Global Firepower’s 2019 annual Global Military Power Index ranking Iran at 14th, ahead of regional rivals Israel (17th) and Saudi Arabia (25th).
After the assassination, the USS Nimitz is returning to the Gulf region, seemingly preparing for the most pessimistic situation. Israel and Saudi Arabia certainly like to see Iran’s head bloody, but they also have to try their best to avoid the tragic consequences of their cities and oil depots becoming direct targets of missiles.
In addition, Iran also has many options for revenge on “fake others”. In Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, Iran has many powerful militia allies. Iran, together with these allies, constitutes the so-called “Shiite corridor” that Israel has always wanted. Arming these allies with missiles and drones will become the key to Iran’s “expedition strategy”.
The most likely and long-term revenge for Israel is for Iran’s nuclear development – such as Iran taking the opportunity to carry out larger uranium enrichment activities, installing more well-functioning centrifuges and establishing additional uranium reserves. Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei has instructed Iranian scientists to “continue the scientific and technological activities of martyr Fahrizad in all fields of his active life”.
While thinking about revenge, Iran is also considering avoiding falling into a trap.
According to the Associated Press, before the assassination, Iran sent a general to Baghdad to warn all allies in the Middle East that the Trump administration has only a few weeks left in office and not leave Trump with a military strike. In mid-November, The New York Times reported that Trump had raised the possibility of a military attack on Iran during his meeting with advisers.
Iran had hoped that Biden’s election would help break the deadlock on the nuclear issue and get out of isolation. Today’s assassinations have complicated Biden’s plan to resume dialogue with Iran. In particular, if the Iranians carry out direct military retaliation, giving Trump an excuse to fight back before leaving office in January next year, Biden will take over more than just a “wreckage” of a diplomatic document, and the trouble will be much greater.
Mark Fitzpatrick, former U.S. State Department of Nuclear Nonproliferation Affairs, tweeted: “The assassination of Fahrizad is not to hinder Iran’s development of war potential, but to hinder diplomacy.” Today’s Russian TV comments are more straightforward. Assassinating nuclear scientists is Israel’s strategy to force the potential U.S. president to give up diplomacy and choose military action to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Iran’s opponents are forcing it to choose between the desire for revenge and the pragmatic intention to get out of isolation. Of course, the strong public opinion pressure of Iran’s people calling for strong revenge is also an important factor to consider, and the government should give an explanation to the people anyway. Iran’s response will determine the final direction of this state of affairs, and its revenge may be on the way.