The assassination on Friday of Iran’s main nuclear scientist has heightened suspicions t hat Donald Trump, in cahoots with hardline Israeli and Saudi allies, could also be attempting to lure the Tehran regime into an all-out confrontation within the dying days of his presidency. Trump’s four-year-long Iranian vendetta is approaching a climax – and he nonetheless has the ability and the means to inflict lasting harm.
Hypothesis that Trump may quickly provoke or help some type of assault on Iran, overt or covert, kinetic or cyber, had swirled throughout the Center East within the wake of final weekend’s unprecedented assembly in Saudi Arabia between Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
What the three males mentioned remains a closely guarded secret, a undeniable fact that has solely served to encourage conspiracy claims. Within the absence of an official assertion, it’s instructed they could have agreed to accentuate efforts to impress and weaken the Tehran regime. Any ensuing retaliation by Iran may then probably be used to justify an assault on its nuclear amenities earlier than Trump leaves workplace on 20 January.
The assembly in Neom, a metropolis close to the Pink Sea, and the presumably deliberate leak revealing it had taken place, served one other vital goal. By presenting a united anti-Iran entrance, the individuals put US president-elect Joe Biden on discover that his plans to renew dialogue with Tehran, and revive the 2015 nuclear deal deserted by Trump, will face fierce resistance and will should be rethought.
If Iran hits again over the assassination, as threatened by its supreme chief, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Biden’s hopes of calming the regional state of affairs could possibly be blown aside – together with Iran’s nuclear amenities at Natanz and elsewhere. And there’s one other hazard. Even when the regime holds again, loyalist Shia militias in Iraq, Syria or Lebanon might take issues into their very own fingers.
“We’ll strike as thunder on the killers of this oppressed martyr and can make them remorse their motion,” Hossein Dehghan, a senior army commander, vowed in a tweet. But Iran’s dilemma is excruciating. If it does retaliate in any apparent means, it might give its enemies the excuse they need and the chance they crave to ship a crushing blow.
Iran’s leaders have little doubt that Israel, with a possible inexperienced mild from Washington, was behind the assassination. President Hassan Rouhani expressly blamed the “usurper Zionist regime”. International minister Javad Zarif tweeted that there have been “critical indications” of an Israeli position. “Iran calls on worldwide group – and particularly EU – to finish their shameful double requirements & condemn this act of state terror,” he wrote.
The strategies used to kill the scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was gunned down in a avenue close to Tehran, resembled these utilized in a spate of comparable killings of nuclear specialists between 2010 and 2012 that Iran blamed on Israel. In 2018, Netanyahu singled Fakhrizadeh out as Iran’s supposed nuclear weapons mastermind.
The assassination additionally recalled final January’s deadly ambush of Basic Qassem Suleimani, the Iranian Islamic revolutionary guard corps commander, which was personally ordered by Trump. Whereas Suleimani was thought to be a nationwide hero, Fakhrizadeh was additionally a person of excessive seniority. For Iran, his loss of life is a physique blow.
Trump has proven himself prepared to make use of covert means to punish the Iranian regime, which he accuses of secretly growing nuclear weapons and destabilising the Center East – claims Iran adamantly denies. The US and Israel are believed to have launched repeated sabotage assaults inside Iran on Trump’s watch.
In July, the Natanz nuclear gas enrichment amenities have been broken by a mysterious explosion. This month, Trump reportedly mentioned choices for hitting Natanz and different targets after UN inspectors mentioned Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile was now 12 times higher than permitted beneath the 2015 nuclear deal deserted by Trump.
For nonetheless undisclosed causes, Trump ordered a number of nuclear-capable B-52 Stratofortress bombers to fly 7,000 miles to the Center East final weekend.
Was the assassination a one-off designed to wreck Iran’s nuclear programme? Or might all this be a prelude to one thing extra strategically explosive as Trump strives to safe his wished-for legacy as scourge of Iran and saviour of Israel?
Trump definitely wants a win. His Iran coverage thus far has largely resulted in personal objectives. His “most strain” sanctions marketing campaign damage the Iranian folks however left their leaders unbowed. The regime is now nearer to buying nuclear bomb-making functionality than it could have been had Trump not reneged on the nuclear deal.
But what occurs subsequent additionally relies upon, up to some extent, on Israel and Saudi Arabia. Netanyahu and Prince Mohammed are eager to ship a message to Biden that what they characterise as appeasement of Iran is not going to work. If the nuclear deal is to be resurrected, they need loopholes plugged and new components added. In the meantime, they are saying sanctions on Iran ought to proceed.
However each males should tread fastidiously. Netanyahu can not ignore Biden’s views or the affect increasing hostilities might have on Israel’s safety. As for the crown prince, he would probably prefer to see Iran given a bloody nostril. However he, too, has to ponder the price of turning Saudi cities and oil terminals into targets. For them, the assassination represents a high-risk gamble.
Iran’s leaders should now determine whether or not to withstand the urge to retaliate – or lash out and invite a bigger battle at a second when the nation’s sanctions and Covid-hit economic system is on its knees. It’s a fateful second for all the Center East. Stuffed with brooding malevolence, Trump is ready to pounce. After 4 years of failure, he could also be tempted to exit with a bang.