The killing of a top scientist was a major blow to Iran's military nuclear weapon efforts. And it damaged Joe Biden's chances of returning to the nuclear deal President Trump abandoned even before the president-elect takes office. Israel might have intended to do both, says an analysis by David E. Sanger in the New York Times. "There must be no return to the previous nuclear agreement," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after Biden was elected. Israel thinks Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was leading a covert program to develop a nuclear bomb, Sanger writes, that would become an unrestrained threat in 2030, when the deal's limits on nuclear fuel production end. "The reason for assassinating Fakhrizadeh wasn’t to impede Iran's war potential, it was to impede diplomacy," a former State Department official said.
Iran blames Israel for the attack, and Sanger points out that Israel hasn't really argued the point. The next few weeks will be telling. Iran has promised revenge, and an opinion piece in a hard-line newspaper Sunday called for an attack on Haifa that would cause "heavy human casualties," per the AP. That could give Trump justification to order a strike against Iran before he leaves office. If Iran does not attack, Israel also will have won, by not paying a price for the assassination. Both outcomes work for Trump's team, too, said Robert Malley, who helped negotiate the nuclear treaty in 2015. The administration wants "to take advantage of the time remaining before it heads to the exits to solidify its legacy," he said, "and make it all the more difficult for its successor to resume diplomacy with Iran and rejoin the nuclear deal." You can read Sanger's analysis here. (Read more Iranian nuclear program stories.)