The United States military has deployed the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz to the Persian Gulf alongside other warships in order to provide ‘combat support and air cover’ for soldiers withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The deployment comes as tensions in the region have ratcheted up following the assassination on Friday of a top scientist who headed Iran’s nuclear program.
The decision to deploy the Nimitz to the Persian Gulf was made before the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi – a physics professor and former officer in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
Iran on Friday accused Israel of trying to provoke a war by assassinating Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi, whom Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had named as the father of the rogue nation’s nuclear program.
One American official and two other intelligence officials confirmed to the New York Times that Israel was behind the attack.
Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi was killed in an ambush involving an explosion and then machine gun fire on the road between the countryside town of Absard and the capital of Tehran.
Iranian state TV said explosives hidden in a pickup exploded in front of the car, scattering debris hundreds of yards, before up to six gunmen emerged from another car and opened fire, the Times reported.
Those wounded in the attack were rushed to a local hospital but medics were unable to revive Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi.
The United States military is deploying the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (left) to the Persian Gulf in order to provide cover for withdrawing troops who are leaving Iraq and Afghanistan, according to CNN. The Nimitz is seen left passing the Strait of Hormuz on September 18, 2020
Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi – a physics professor and former officer in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard – was killed in his car following an explosion and then machine gun fire near to Tehran, state media reports. Pictured: A photo purporting to be from the scene that was widely shared by local media
Iranian State TV released several images of the scene – including one that shows shards of glass and metal on the road (pictured)
Those wounded in the attack (the aftermath, pictured) were rushed to a local hospital but medics were unable to revive Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi
It said witnesses heard the sound of an explosion and then machine gun fire. The attack targeted a car that Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi was in, reports suggest. Pictured: Part of the aftermath of the attack
The deployment comes as regional tensions are on the rise following the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi – a nuclear scientist dubbed ‘father of the Iranian bomb’
The Trump administration has set a January 15 deadline for the US military to draw down its forces from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Israel has reportedly been pushing for the outgoing Trump administration to deal a heavy blow to Iran’s nuclear program by bombing key reactors.
But Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is said to have met in secret with Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last Sunday, is reluctant to go along with the plan, Middle East Eye reported.
Netanyahu made the demand during the trilateral meeting in Neom, a Saudi resort town along the coast of the Red Sea.
Bin Salman reportedly expressed serious reservations about an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, citing two reasons – the recent strikes against Saudi oil targets that are believed to have been carried out by pro-Iranian forces; and what he believes will be the incoming Biden administration’s policies.
If the Trump administration orders its military to strike Iran, it could then lead to an escalation across the region involving Israel, the Saudis, and the Gulf States.
President-elect Joe Biden, who will take office on January 20, has already said he is committed to returning to the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement, which the Trump administration pulled out of.
‘In the meeting Netanyahu was advocating hitting Iran,’ Saudi sources told Middle East Eye.
‘Pompeo did not commit either way.’
Days after Trump lost the November 3 election to Biden, the president asked for options on attacking Iran’s main nuclear site, but ultimately decided against taking the dramatic step, US officials said.
Trump made the request during an Oval Office meeting on November 12 with his top national security aides, including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, new acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the official said.
Bin Salman is reportedly concerned that a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities could send regional tensions spinning out of control, possibly engulfing his own kingdom.
The state has already suffered attacks in recent weeks, which they fear could spiral out of control.
Earlier this week, an explosion damaged a Greek-managed tanker at a Saudi Arabian terminal on the Red Sea just north of the Yemeni border, the ship’s manager said on Wednesday.
The attack was confirmed by Saudi Arabia.
In a statement published by state media, the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen said a commercial vessel suffered minor damage from shrapnel in what it described as a foiled terrorist attack.
Two weeks ago, a fire near a floating platform belonging to the Jazan oil products terminal was contained with no injuries.
That fire was the result of another attempted Houthi attack, in which the Saudi-led coalition intercepted and destroyed two explosive-laden boats in the southern Red Sea.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility from the Houthis regarding the latest incident.
The Saudis believe these attacks are ‘clear proxy messages from Iran.’
A photo purporting to be from the scene of Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi’s assassination that was widely shared by local media
Meanwhile, a new report on Friday claims that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (left) expressed reluctance to support a US-led military assault on Iran which is being advocated by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu (right)
The assassination of Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi came after Al Qaeda’s second in command Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah was shot dead alongside his daughter in Tehran in August.
The terror leader was killed 22 years to the day after he masterminded devastating attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people and injured thousands more, but details of his killing only emerged this month.
Abdullah, who went by the name Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was gunned down in Tehran in August 7 by Israeli agents who were working on the behest of U.S. officials, according to the New York Times.
When the story broke two weeks ago, Iran that the Times report was based on ‘made-up information’ and denied the presence of any of the group’s members – claiming the killed man was a history professor.
Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi’s death comes two years after Netanyahu warned the world to ‘remember that name’ in a press conference about Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
The killing of Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi marks the second time Iran has been humiliated this year, after Qassem Soleimani – a major general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – was assassinated in a US drone strike in January.
Iran’s armed forces chief of staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri called Fakhrizdeh’s death ‘a bitter and heavy blow to the country’s defence system’ and warned of ‘severe revenge’, while Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said there were ‘serious indications of an Israeli role’ in the assassination.
As the Middle East braces for retaliation from Iran, chilling pictures of the aftermath of the attack have begun circling on social media. A pool of blood can be seen on a road by a car – with a windscreen peppered with bullet holes.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once called out Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi in a news conference about Iran’s nuclear capabilities (pictured), warning the world to remember that name’
The killing of Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi marks the second time Iran has been humiliated this year, after Qassem Soleimani (pictured centre) – a major general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – was assassinated in a US drone strike in January
This is the moment an American guided missile struck a convoy of cars carrying Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani along with two Islamic Revolutionary Guards generals, a colonel, and a captain, killing all five in January
The masters of ‘wet work’: Israeli agents are feared for covert assassination ops
Israel has often favoured covert ‘wet work’ tactics against its enemies – including assassinations.
The country’s national intelligence agency Mossad has been accused carrying out attacks on members of Palestinian fundamentalist group Hamas in recent years.
Prominent Iranian figures have also been targets – several of which have been nuclear scientists.
Within the agency is an elite unit known as Kidon – or ‘tip of the spear – which is widely-understood to be responsible for assassinations.
The group has been dubbed an ‘an elite group of expert assassins’ – but little is known about them or how they operate.
Alleged Mossad attacks tend to be quick and clean, including killings where the assassin is on the back of a motorcycle for an easy getaway.
Mossad hits are also usually outside of Israel – further reducing the chances that the attacks will be tied to the state.
Choosing the assassination target is a complicated process involving Mossad itself, the Israeli intelligence community and those in the highest seats of Government.
The military can also play a role in picking a target.
Below are some alleged – and confirmed – attacks against Iranians by the Israeli state.
February 12, 2013 – Hassan Shateri – who went by the pseudonym Hussam Khoshnevis – was a major general of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
He was killed in an Israeli airstrike in Syria.
January 11, 2012 – Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan was assassinated in a motorbike bomb attack in Tehran. Mossad are allegedly responsible.
November 12, 2011 – General Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam was killed – along with 17 other Revolutionary Guard members – in an explosion at a missile base in Tehran.
Moghaddam was the mind behind Iran’s ballistic missile forces.
Iranian officials themselves have insisted the explosion was an accident and said there was no Israeli involvement – but some reports have accused Mossad of being behind it.
July 23, 2011 – Iranian electrical engineer Darioush Rezaeinejad was allegedly killed by a Mossad operative on a motorcycle in Tehran.
He helped to develop high-voltage switches used in nuclear weaponry.
January 12, 2010 – Iranian Physicist Masoud Alimohammadi was killed in a car bomb.
A man later appeared in court claiming Massad hired him to kill Alimohammadi. US officials rubbished the allegations.
The assassination came just days after Israel Defense Forces were told to get ready for the US potentially ordering a military strike against Iran before the end of Trump’s term as President.
Top Israeli officials warned of ‘a very sensitive period’ in the coming weeks as Trump prepares to relinquish power to Biden.
Biden has promised a return to diplomacy with Iran after four hawkish years under Trump, who withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and began reimposing crippling sanctions.
At the time, Trump said the deal did not offer sufficient guarantees to stop Tehran from acquiring an atomic bomb. Iran has always denied it wants such a weapon.
Trump on Friday retweeted reports on Fakhrizadeh’s assassination, without commenting on it himself.
Israel has so far declined to comment on the death of Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi.
Israel has long been suspected of carrying out a series of targeted killings of Iranian nuclear scientists nearly a decade ago.
Commander Hossein Dehghan wrote on Twitter: ‘In the last days of the political life of their […] ally (US President Donald Trump), the Zionists (Israel) seek to intensify pressure on Iran and create a full-blown war.’
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has claimed there were ‘serious indications of (an) Israeli role’ in the assassination.
He said: ‘Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today. This cowardice – with serious indications of Israeli role – shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators.’
Israel and the US Pentagon both earlier declined to comment on reports of the attack.
Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi was named in UN sanctions resolutions because of his work as head of Iran’s Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research group in 2007.
The US charges that the organization – known by its Farsi acronym SPND – oversees nuclear-relevant research for Iran and is active in the training of new scientists.
Mr Netanyahu named Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi as boss of the SPND during a news conference in 2018.
In 2007, he was revealed to be the chairman of the Field for the Expansion of Deployment of Advanced Technology (FEDAT) in a leaked Iranian document.
The FEDAT was the cover name for the organisation behind Iran’s nuclear weapons programme.
The leaked document purported to show the country’s four-year plan to develop a uranium deuteride neutron initiator.
A statement by Iran’s armed forces confirmed Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi’s death.
It stated: ‘Unfortunately, the medical team did not succeed in reviving him, and a few minutes ago, this manager and scientist achieved the high status of martyrdom after years of effort and struggle.’
The semiofficial Fars news agency, believed to be close to the country’s Revolutionary Guard, said the attack happened in Absard, a small city just east of the capital, Tehran.
It said witnesses heard the sound of an explosion and then machine gun fire. The attack targeted a car that Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi was in, the agency said.
Those wounded, including Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi’s bodyguards, were later taken to a local hospital, the agency said.
State television later published a photograph of security forces blocking off the road.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. However, Iranian media all noted the interest that Netanyahu had previously shown in Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi.
Hossein Salami, chief commander of the paramilitary Guard, appeared to acknowledge the attack on Fakhrizadeh.
Who was Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi and why was he a prominent figure in Israel-Iran tensions?
Prominent Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi, killed in an attack outside Tehran on Friday, was widely seen outside the country as a leading figure in the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. Iran denies his involvement.
WHAT IS KNOWN ABOUT HIM?
Western officials and experts believe Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi played a pivotal role in suspected Iranian work in the past to develop the means to assemble a nuclear warhead behind the facade of a declared civilian uranium enrichment program.
Iran denies ever having sought to develop a nuclear weapon.
A landmark report by the UN nuclear watchdog in 2011 identified Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi as a central figure in suspected Iranian work to develop technology and skills needed for atomic bombs, and suggested he may still have a role in such activity.
Believed to be a senior officer in the elite Revolutionary Guards, Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi was the only Iranian the report identified.
WHAT DOES IRAN SAY?
The UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has long wanted to meet Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi as part of a protracted investigation into whether Iran carried out illicit nuclear weapons research.
Showing no sign it would heed the request, Iran acknowledged Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi’s existence several years ago but said he was an army officer not involved in the nuclear programme, according to a diplomatic source with knowledge of the matter.
He was also named in a 2007 UN resolution on Iran as a person involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities.
WHAT IS KNOWN ABOUT HIS BACKGROUND?
An exiled Iranian opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), in May 2011 issued a report with what it said was a photograph of Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi, with dark hair and beard stubble. It was not possible to independently verify the picture.
The NCRI said in the report that Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi was born in 1958 in the holy Muslim city of Qom, was a deputy defence minister and a Revolutionary Guards brigadier-general. He holds a nuclear engineering doctorate and taught at Iran’s University of Imam Hussein.
‘Assassinating nuclear scientists is the most violent confrontation to prevent us from reaching modern science,’ Salami tweeted.
Hossein Dehghan, an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader and a presidential candidate in Iran’s 2021 election, issued a warning on Twitter.
‘In the last days of their gambling ally’s political life, the Zionists seek to intensify and increase pressure on Iran to wage a full-blown war,’ Dehghan wrote, appearing to refer to US President Donald Trump.
‘We will descend like lightning on the killers of this oppressed martyr and we will make them regret their actions!’
The area around Absard is filled with vacation villas for the Iranian elite with a view of Mount Damavand, the highest peak in the country.
Roads on Friday, part of the Iranian weekend, were emptier than normal due to a lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic, offering his attackers a chance to strike with fewer people around.
Fakhrizadeh led Iran’s so-called ‘Amad,’ or ‘Hope’ program.
Israel and the West have alleged it was a military operation looking at the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon in Iran. Tehran long has maintained its nuclear program is peaceful.
The International Atomic Energy Agency says that ‘Amad’ program ended in the early 2000s. IAEA inspectors now monitor Iranian nuclear sites as part of Iran’s now-unraveling nuclear deal with world power.
Senior Israeli officials this week predicted ‘a very sensitive period’ in the coming weeks – ahead of President-Elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
In a bid to be cautious, Israel is reportedly preparing for potential retaliation from Iran, Axios reports.
Earlier this month, Trump held an Oval Office meeting where he was ‘talked out of’ launching strikes on Iran after a previous UN report showed a massive increase in nuclear stockpiles in breach of the Obama-era pact which Trump abandoned in 2018.
Defence sources told The New York Times that Trump asked for options on a bombardment – likely to have targeted Iran’s foremost nuclear facility, Natanz.
And just last week, a report by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) showed Iran has fired up advanced uranium centrifuges installed at its underground Natanz site.
Tehran was revealed to be pumping nuclear fuel into high-tech IR-2m machines at Natanz, in contravention of an international deal to only use first generation IR-1 machines.
The assassination of Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi has lead many to speculate that he is ‘Iran’s nuclear Qassem Soleimani’.
Soleimani, a major general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was assassinated in a US drone strike in January this year.
A spokesperson for the Atomic Energy Organization in Iran stressed that no accident had occurred and all scientists were safe and well.
The deputy leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement said on Friday that the response for the assassination of Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was in Iran’s hands.
‘We condemn this heinous attack and see that the response to this crime is in the hands of those concerned in Iran,’ Sheikh Naim Qassem said in an interview with Al Manar television.
He said Fakhrizadeh was killed by ‘those sponsored by America and Israel’ and said the assassination was part of a war on Iran and the region. Iran pointed the finger at Israel after Fakhrizadeh was killed in an ambush near the Iranian capital Tehran on Friday. Israel declined to comment.
Earlier this month, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said Iran’s allies in the region should be in a state of high readiness in case of any ‘American or Israeli folly’ during the remainder of U.S. President Donald Trump’s term.
Asked whether Israel could attack Lebanon during that time, Qassem said he did not believe so but that if it did Hezbollah was ‘fully prepared’ for a confrontation.
Israel and Hezbollah last fought a war in 2006.
Qassem said it was unlikely there would be a direct strike on Iran as it would ‘ignite the whole region’.
‘We cannot rule out the possibility of a limited attack and the Iranians are ready for this and more, but I don’t see an all-out war on the horizon,’ he said.
The alleged assassination came just days after Israel Defense Forces were told to get ready for the US potentially ordering a military strike against Iran before the end of Donald Trump’s term as President
Israel has so far declined to comment on the death of Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi, who Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (pictured) once called out in a news conference saying: ‘Remember that name’
The former head of the US Central Intelligence Agency labelled the assassination Friday a ‘criminal’ act that risks inflaming conflict in the region.
John Brennan said he did not know who was to blame for the murder of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, as Tehran pointed its finger at Israel.
‘This was a criminal act & highly reckless. It risks lethal retaliation & a new round of regional conflict,’ Brennan said in a series of tweets.
‘I do not know whether a foreign government authorized or carried out the murder of Fakhrizadeh,’ he said.
‘Such an act of state-sponsored terrorism would be a flagrant violation of international law & encourage more governments to carry out lethal attacks against foreign officials.’
Brennan noted that Fakhrizadeh was not a designated terrorist nor a member of Al Qaeda or the Islamic State group, designated terror groups which would be legal targets.
A strong critic of President Donald Trump, Brennan urged Tehran to ‘resist the urge’ to retaliate and ‘wait for the return of responsible American leadership on the global stage,’ a reference to November 3 election winner Joe Biden, who will replace Trump on January 20.
Brennan was director of the CIA from 2013 to 2017, under the administration of president Barack Obama and then-vice president Biden.
Brennan did not take part in Biden’s election campaign and has not appeared to be involved in his preparations for taking office on January 20.
But early this week Biden named Brennan’s former deputy director at the CIA, Avril Haines, as his director of national intelligence.