This is the top story from our daily newsletter published on December 1, 2020. To have this and more delivered directly to your inbox scroll down and enter your email or click here to sign up.
Top Story from the Associated Press news team: “A top Iranian security official on Monday accused Israel of using ‘electronic devices’ to remotely kill a scientist who founded the Islamic republic’s military nuclear program in the 2000s.” The scientist in question was, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an Iranian named by the West as the leader of Iran’s disbanded military nuclear program who was killed last Friday in an ambush on the outskirts of Tehran. Here is the response to the attack from both sides:
On the Right: Conservatives and right-leaning outlets view the attack as proof that Iran has been cheating on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal. In an opinion piece for the New York Post, Richard Goldberg writes: “Let this be a warning to Biden: Iran has been cheating this whole time.” Goldberg says: “Friday’s apparent assassination of the founder of Iran’s nuclear weapons program wasn’t just a setback for the regime’s nuclear ambitions — it was a timely reminder that the Iran nuclear deal was built on Iranian deception from the start.” Goldberg supports his argument by outlining how Iranian government-funded organizations like the SPND, which were led by Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, have been functioning in a covert manner. He says: “Last year, the State Department revealed that SPND has employed as many as 1,500 individuals, including nuclear weapons scientists.” Goldberg says this was only possible because Iran “never truly halted its nuclear weapons program” even though “supporters [of the JCPOA] wanted the world to believe that Iran had left its nuclear ambitions in the past.” In reality, Goldberg says, “we now know Iran lied to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and to the participants of the Iran nuclear deal” which means that “President-elect Joe Biden can no longer pretend that the Iran deal prevented the Islamic Republic’s nuclear advancement.” Goldberg concludes by saying: “Team Biden should issue a clear message to Tehran: come clean or say goodbye to future talks.”
On the Left: Progressives and left-leaning commentators believe the attack was meant to limit the incoming administration’s options in regards to Iran and the Iran nuclear deal. In an opinion piece for the New York Times, Barbara Slavin, who directs the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council asks: “Why Was Iran’s Top Nuclear Scientist Killed?” She answers: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, with the support of President Trump, seems intent on scorching the earth to make it harder for any return to diplomacy under President-elect Joe Biden.” According to Slavin, “Israel and the Trump administration apparently fear that a Biden administration would seek a quick return to the nuclear agreement, which could revive Iran’s struggling economy and make it harder to contain its influence in the Middle East. Killing Mr. Fakhrizadeh makes that all the more difficult.” Although those are the alleged goals, Slavin says “The killing of Mr. Fakhrizadeh will not dent Iran’s nuclear expertise.” She believes, “The latest killing may not provoke Iran to build nuclear weapons, but it will likely feed the animosity between the United States and Iran, making diplomacy that much harder. It could strengthen hard-line factions in Iran arguing against a return to diplomacy.” In conclusion, Slavin says “It would be the ultimate tragedy if Israel’s aggression now led Iran to change its calculus and go for weapons. This could spark a nuclear arms race throughout the region and ensure that the Middle East remains dysfunctional, riven by sectarian and other conflicts, its peoples’ potential for productive work stymied and its youth vulnerable to recruitment by terrorists who have struck innocent people around the world.”
Flag This: Most of the polling around US-Iran relations is dated. One of the most recent polls was published in August 2019. This was well before the US election, the pandemic, and the January 3, 2020 Assassination of Qasem Soleimani, an Iranian major general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Nevertheless, at the time, Mohamed Younis aggregated data for Gallup which showed that “78% of Americans favor reliance on nonmilitary efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program.” When asked if the US should take military action against Iran if economic and diplomatic efforts do not work, 42% of the population thinks we should. Republicans tend to be more “hawkish” or in favor of military action whereas Democrats favor diplomatic channels. Lastly, Gallup data showed that “65% of the country has expressed concern that the US will be too quick to use military force.”