Iran’s defense industry has suffered two “disgraceful blows” at the end of this year’s song. In January of the year, Suleimani, the commander of the “Quds Brigade” of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was targeted to be cleared in an air raid by the U.S. military; on November 27, the end of the year, Muhsen Fahrizad, Iran’s top nuclear scientist, was assassinated in the Iranian capital. Suleimani’s death once made the Gulf cloudy. After the assassination of Fahrizad, can the Iran nuclear agreement usher in the “return” of the United States? What will happen in the Middle East in the future?
“The assassination of Fahrizad came at the end of the Trump administration, which is a severe test for Iran and the United States. Wang Jin, an associate professor at the Middle East Research Institute of Northwestern University of China, analyzed and said in an interview with China Youth Daily · China Youth Network.
Iran may need to “restrain the desire for revenge”
“No negotiations, no surrender, only to continue to fight against the United States!” After the assassination of Mohsen Fahrizad, a top nuclear scientist and head of the nuclear program of the Iranian Ministry of Defense, on November 27, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif immediately accused that it was the Israeli secret service organization Mossad who planned and carried out the assassination. Over the past few days, the continuous demonstrations of Iranian people in the capital Tehran have targeted the United States.
Fahrizad is a representative figure in the hearts of the Iranian people to fight against the West. So far, no country, organization or individual has declared responsibility for the assassination of Fahrizad, and officials from the White House, the Central Intelligence Agency and Israel have declined to comment on the matter. However, the Iranian people believe that this has nothing to do with the United States, firstly because US President Trump has publicly admitted to carrying out a “targeted clean-up” operation against General Suleimani, and secondly because the killing of Fahrizad “coincidentally” to occur during a sensitive period when the Trump administration transitions power to the Biden team. Trump announced that the United States had withdrawn from the Iran nuclear agreement and had been committed to building an anti-Iran alliance in the Middle East during his tenure; Biden promised that the United States would return to the Iran nuclear agreement.
“The assassination of Fahrizad was reckless, provocative and illegal, with the aim of disrupting possible dialogue between Iran and the incoming U.S. government.” “This must not happen again, diplomatic dialogue is the best way to advance bilateral relations, not murder,” Democratic U.S. Senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said in a tweet on November 28. Former CIA director John Brennan also called on Iran to “restrain its desire for revenge and wait for responsible American leaders to return to the international stage”.
Sanders’s fears with Brennan stem from the “retaliation directive” issued by Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei. On November 28, Khamenei tweeted strongly condemning the killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Fahrizad, calling for “clear punishment” for those behind the killing of Fahrizad, and promising revenge. On November 30, Iran’s defense minister also promised at a funeral ceremony for Fahrizad that Iran would retaliate for it.
There will be revenge, but revenge will be limited.
Considering Khamenei’s influence at Iran’s top military and political leadership, and Iran’s “missile rain” on the U.S. military base in Iraq the day after General Suleimani was killed, will Iran really “fight the murderer of Fahrizad with thunder” this time, as its Ministry of Defense said?
Trik Parcy, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Governance, an American think tank, believes that Iran may retaliate militarily, but it will be more cautious than ever and unlikely to retaliate against American interests. Parsi believes that the timing and intensity of Iran’s response will depend on the response of Western countries and Biden’s team to the assassination.
“There is no doubt that Iran will retaliate. But before Biden takes office in January next year, it is unlikely that Iran will launch specific military retaliation operations.” Wang Jin, an associate professor at the Middle East Research Institute of Northwest University, who was interviewed by China Youth Daily · China Youth Network, believes that the main way of Iran’s retaliation may focus on the research and development of nuclear weapons, and probably will not make other big moves. He analyzed that Iran’s current domestic economic and social situation is not very good, and the pressure is very great, so it is difficult to support it to launch more foreign counterattacks. Wang Jin said: “The moderates in Iran, represented by President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif, believe that Iran’s first priority is to seek the return of the United States to the Iran nuclear agreement and lift sanctions against Iran. And after the Biden administration of the United States comes to power, Iran may have a different external environment than before. Therefore, Iran will endure until the Biden administration comes to power. For Iran, this is a realistic and helpless choice.
Sun Degang, a researcher at the Institute of International Studies of Fudan University, also believes that Iran will still choose strategic patience at present, because Iran understands that if it conducts a large-scale overseas counterattack at present, it will “just fall into the trap of the United States and Israel”. He predicted that in the short term, Iran will mainly focus its countermeasures on domestically, such as increasing the number of centrifuges, accelerating the research and development of ballistic missiles, and promoting the modernization of national defense.
Diako Husseini, an adviser to President Rouhani and a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a US think tank, also believes that at this stage, Iran will give priority to legal accountability rather than military response. “Iran understands that for Israel, the assassination can exacerbate the situation on the ground at a political level to prevent U.S. President-elect Biden from improving relations with Iran,” he said.
Two weeks before Fahrizad’s assassination, Husseini warned that Trump hoped to complicate Biden’s return to the Iran nuclear agreement by “destructive” activities before leaving office. In order to neutralize these plans, Iran cannot make itself feel provoked and make it until the new U.S. government comes to power in January next year. It is not conducive to your own overreaction.
Biden will take over the “hot potato”
For Biden, who is in the process of power transfer, Fahrizad’s death may also be a hot potato he has to take over.
“During the election campaign, Biden made it clear that he hoped to give Iran a path of keeping its promise and return to diplomacy, so that the United States can rejoin the Iran nuclear agreement.’ This gives a strong arm to moderates in Iran, which is equivalent to proposing a compromise path for the current completely opposed U.S.-Iran relations and creating opportunities for the two sides to continue to contact. This is also a good signal for the situation in the region. Wang Jin analyzed that the assassination of Fahrizad undoubtedly cast a new shadow on Iraq-US relations. Whether Biden can implement his intention to contact Iran depends on the next reaction of both sides.
Ben-Fordman, a professor at George Washington University in the United States, believes that “the assassination is likely to help hardliners in Iran who want to acquire nuclear weapons, which is also a breach of U.S. diplomatic efforts and American interests”.
Sun Degang also believes that the United States and Israel are seizing the last “window of opportunity” in preventing Iran from advancing its nuclear program. Fahrizad’s death is a “pit” they dug for Biden. Some people in the United States and Israel are trying to prevent the United States from repairing relations with Iran and creating obstacles for the United States to return to the Iran nuclear agreement.
Iran’s economy has suffered a heavy setback since Trump announced his withdrawal from the comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue in May 2018 and restarting the sanctions against Iran exempted because of the agreement. Iran’s Consumer Value Index (CPI) began to grow significantly since 2018, according to the World Bank, and the CPI grew by 39% year-on-year in 2019. Speaking on state television on November 11, Iranian President Rouhani said: “Our goal is to reduce the burden of U.S. sanctions from the shoulders of the Iranian people… This goal is in the national interest.” He revealed that Iran is ready to negotiate with the United States on the condition that Biden returns to the 2015 nuclear agreement and lifts the sanctions against Iran restarted by current President Trump.
The New York Times, November 30th, entitled “Why was Iran’s chief nuclear scientist assassinated?” The article analyzed that the Israeli and Trump administrations are obviously worried that Biden will seek to quickly resume the nuclear agreement, because it may revive Iran’s troubled economy and make it more difficult to curb Iran’s influence in the Middle East. Killing Fahrizad will make it more difficult for the United States and Iran to restore the nuclear agreement.
But Mark Dubowitz, director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, a conservative think tank in the United States, may instead help Biden engage in dialogue with Iran. Dubowitz said: “With less than two months to Biden’s in office, the United States and Israel are fully likely to use this period to cause considerable trouble for Iran, and then the Biden government can negotiate terms with Iran.”
Although all eyes are on Biden, at present, he and his team can only send a media message to Iran to be patient before the inauguration of the next president of the United States on January 20 next year. Meanwhile, the Biden team sent a message to Israelis demanding that they “stop sabotage”.