Though the hard-line Kayhan newspaper has long argued for aggressive retaliation for operations targeting Iran, Sunday’s opinion piece went further, suggesting any assault be carried out in a way that destroys facilities and “also causes heavy human casualties.”
Kayhan published the piece written by Iranian analyst Sadollah Zarei, who argued Iran’s previous responses to suspected Israeli airstrikes that killed Revolutionary Guard forces in Syria did not go far enough to deter Israel. He said an assault on Haifa also needed to be greater than Iran’s ballistic missile attack against American troops in Iraq following the US drone strike in Baghdad that killed a top Iranian general in January.
While Kayhan is a small circulation newspaper in Iran, its editor-in-chief Hossein Shariatmadari was appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and has been described as an adviser to him in the past.
Haifa, on the Mediterranean Sea, has been threatened in the past by both Iran and one of its proxies, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
Israel also is widely believed to have its own nuclear weapons, a stockpile it neither confirms nor denies possessing.
The Iranian parliament on Sunday held a closed-door hearing about Fakhrizadeh’s killing. Afterward, parliament speaker Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf said Iran’s enemies must be made to regret killing him.
“The criminal enemy does not regret it except with a strong reaction,” he said in a broadcast on Iranian state radio.
A public session of lawmakers saw them chant: “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!”
They also began the review of a bill that would stop inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The nuclear watchdog has provided an unprecedented, real-time look at Iran’s civilian nuclear program following the country’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
That’s still far below weapons-grade levels of 90 per cent, though experts warn Iran now has enough low-enriched uranium to reprocess into fuel for at least two atomic bombs if it chose to pursue them. The proposed bill reportedly also would require Iran’s civilian atomic program to produce at least 120 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20 per cent — a short technical step to 90 per cent.
Iran’s 290-seat parliament is dominated by hard-liners who likely would support the bill. It ultimately would have to be approved by Iran’s Guardian Council. Khamenei also has final say on all matters of state.
Khamenei has called Fakhrizadeh “the country’s prominent and distinguished nuclear and defensive scientist” and has demanded the “definitive punishment” of those behind the killing, without elaborating.
Fakhrizadeh headed Iran’s so-called AMAD program that Israel and the West have alleged was a military operation looking at the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon. The IAEA says the “structured program” ended in 2003. US intelligence agencies concurred with that assessment in a 2007 report.
Israel contends Iran is still intent on developing a nuclear weapon. It argues Iran’s ballistic missile program and other research could help build a bomb if it pursued one — especially as provisions of the 2015 nuclear deal expire. Iran long has maintained its nuclear program is peaceful and that it has no plans to build an atomic bomb.
Amos Yadlin, a one-time head of Israeli military intelligence who now serves as the director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, alleged Fakhrizadeh ran “all covert activities with weaponisation of the program.”
The damage of his death “cannot be measured since nobody knows exactly the scope and the depth what the Iranians are doing covertly,” Yadlin said. “But no doubt that he was the core source of authority, knowledge and organisation of this program.”
Fakhrizadeh’s killing likely complicates the plans of President-elect Joe Biden, who has said his administration will consider reentering Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. It also raises the risk of an open conflict in President Donald Trump’s final weeks in office, as any retaliation could provoke an American military response, Yadlin said.
“I highly recommend to the officials to keep their mouths closed and not leak anything. They’ve already spoke too much,” he said, referring to cryptic remarks by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to his supporters that he could not discuss everything he did last week.
“Any more evidence that will help the Iranians to decide on retaliation against Israel is a mistake,” Yadlin said.
– Reported with Associated Press