The killing of Prof. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh has dealt a blow to the morale, psyche and work of the Iranian regime headed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – and especially to the Revolutionary Guards and the masters of the country’s nuclear program.
Fakhrizadeh was a physics professor at Imam Hossein University in Tehran but also held key positions in the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program, which has been operating secretly for over 20 years behind the facade of the civilian uranium enrichment program.
The program is the responsibility of the Revolutionary Guards, in which Fakhrizadeh held the rank of brigadier general. More than a decade ago, when the International Atomic Energy Agency began to gradually expose Iran’s violations and military program, helped by the intelligence agencies of Israel, the United States and other Western countries, the watchdog’s inspectors asked to visit Tehran and question Fakhrizadeh.
The regime refused and sheltered its senior scientist. Later reports claimed that there had been an attempt on his life, attributed to the Mossad. According to foreign media, between 2008 and 2012 the Mossad took part in the assassination of five Iranian nuclear scientists.
Fakhrizadeh, however, was unique, not only because of the knowledge he accrued in his scientific career, but mainly because he headed the “weapons group,” the final and most important stage of building a nuclear weapon and developing missiles that can carry nuclear warheads. The military nuclear program was exposed by Israeli intelligence, the CIA and finally the IAEA, too, and given the sobriquet “the Amad program.”
Iran denied that it had a military nuclear program. In time it turned out that Tehran had shelved Amad in 2003 but later revived it in another guise, under the auspices of the Defense Ministry under the Farsi acronym SPND.
The details of the assassination remain unclear. Some news sites say a suicide bomber blew up the car in which Fakhrizadeh was riding and a gun-battle ensued in which some people, including his bodyguards, were wounded. The latest reports claim that the scientist was killed by gunmen on motorcycles.
In the past, Iranian nuclear scientists in Tehran have indeed been killed by point-blank shots from gunmen on motorcycles, or by bombs affixed to the scientists' cars.
At a press conference in late April 2018, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed the name of the SPND program and, in his presentation, showed a photograph of Fakhrizadeh. According to various reports, Fakhrizadeh knew he was wanted by the Mossad and other intelligence agencies and had been in hiding for years.
At that April 2018 press conference, Netanyahu also revealed that the Mossad, headed by current chief Yossi Cohen, smuggled a vast archive on Tehran’s nuclear program out of Iran to Israel. The mission, as well as the disclosures by Netanyahu and Cohen, spurred U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the big powers’ nuclear agreement with Iran and apply heavier sanctions on the regime and its top people.
In response, Iran launched moves that violated the nuclear agreement, including enriching greater quantities of uranium than allowed, also at higher levels than allowed, installing more advanced centrifuges and building up a stock of uranium, thereby shortening by months the so-called breakout time to build a bomb.