Iran has vowed retaliation after the ‘father’ of its civilian nuclear programme was assassinated on his way to work.
This major escalation of tensions risks placing the Middle East on a new war footing.
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was ambushed with explosives and machine gun fire on a highway near the capital Tehran. Efforts to resuscitate him in hospital failed. His bodyguard and family members were also wounded.
“We will strike as thunder at the killers of this oppressed martyr and will make them regret their action,” tweeted Hossein Dehghan.
The killing was seen inside Iran as being as grave as the assassination by US forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Qassem Soleimani in January.
Israel will face accusations that it is using the final weeks of the Trump administration to try to provoke Iran in the hope of closing off any chance of reconciliation between Tehran and the incoming US administration led by Joe Biden.
Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli Defence Force intelligence, said: “With the window of time left for Trump, such a move could lead Iran to a violent response, which would provide a pretext for a US-led attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.”
Over the last 10 years four Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated in similar ways, either going to or returning from work.
In 2010, Masoud Ali Mohammadi was killed by a remote-control bomb strapped to a motorcycle as he was leaving his Tehran home.
Later that year, another nuclear scientist, Majid Shahriar, died when attackers rode up alongside him and stuck bombs to his car.
Fereidoon Abbasi Davani, Iran’s atomic chief at the time, survived an assassination attempt that same day.
In 2011, Darioush Rezaeinejad, an academic whose affiliation to the country’s nuclear activities is disputed, was shot by gunmen riding on motorcycles.
A year later, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, the deputy head of Iran’s uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, was killed by a magnetic bomb stuck to his car while driving to work.
Israel has never commented on the accusations but its foreign intelligence service, Mossad, has a record of assassinations.
America has denied any involvement but it is widely accepted that Israel would never launch such a high profile assassination without first getting the nod from the United States.
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