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Iranian Masterminds Knocked Out One After Another

IRAN -- Iranians walk past a poster depicting late Revolutionary Guards commander Qasem Soleimani (R) and nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, assassinated last month, in the capital Tehran, December 30, 2020

Under Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's supervision, Iran has pursued three targeted and costly programs in the last two decades to strengthen its position and ensure its survival: its nuclear program, missile program and regional influence.

The prominent commander and mastermind of the program for gaining regional influence was Qassem Soleimani, who dreamed of forming a "Shiite crescent" in the Middle East. He was rapidly implementing it with the help of allies such as Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes in Iraq.

In the missile field, Hassan Tehrani Moqaddam was named the mastermind who dreamed of building an "Israel-hitting missile."

Finally, in the nuclear field, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was described as the mastermind, a man who dreamed of building an "atomic bomb."

Over the past decade, these three projects have had many ups and downs. Still, the most critical development has been the killing of all three "masterminds" and their significant auxiliary figures such as Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes. President Donald Trump's order eliminated the first two, and the other two more likely by Israel.

It is difficult to assess the impact of these figures' physical elimination on the speed and approach of the programs they led. Yet, removing the three "masterminds" of the Iranian government, who were symbols of the Islamic Republic's ambition, will leave an irreparable and long-term psychological shock on the nation.

In addition to the psychological and propaganda significance of removing these symbols, cases such as the assassination of Fakhrizadeh on a broader perspective are part of a purposeful and ongoing program to "maximize" the weakening of Iran's long-term projects.

This determined and purposeful program is not limited to Iran's nuclear program. In recent years, numerous reports have been published on cyber-attacks on Iran's missile-related activities, the US secret plan to counter Iran's missile program, and failed satellite launch tests. All these developments have been examples of a macro-strategy toward weakening Tehran's ambitious agenda.

Repeated Israeli missile strikes on Iranian positions in Syria are another piece of the puzzle aimed at "maximally weakening" Iran's role in the region and the Middle East.

Even some advocates of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, believe that it played a crucial role in "weakening" Iran's nuclear program. However, the Israeli government rejects such an assessment, and believes that Iran is still attempting to produce atomic bombs under cover of the JCPOA.

From this perspective, the assassination of Fakhrizadeh is another link in a chain of events that have gained momentum since February 2017.

In the first step, in February 2017, the Israeli agents ransacked the archives of Iran's nuclear program in Shurabad, Tehran, stole 55,000 documents and 183 CDs, and fled in two pickups.

In May 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mentioned Mohsen Fakhrizadeh three times during the unveiling of the stolen documents. Meanwhile, he boasted that the stolen documents significantly increased Israel's intelligence dominance over Iran's nuclear program.

Four months later, in September 2018, the Israeli prime minister presented pictures of a "new secret nuclear facility" in Tehran's Turquzabad district at the UN General Assembly, exposed information about the "production of nuclear weapons" in Iran.

Iran has been struggling with Netanyahu's revelation for the past 27 months and has not yet been able to present a convincing response to the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) inquiry. The revelations were harmful to the extent that in June 2019, the IAEA issued its first resolution against Tehran in eight years.

In July 2020, a third blow hit Iran's nuclear program, when the Iranian centrifuge center at the Natanz nuclear site exploded. According to some analysts, the explosion delayed Iran's nuclear program by two years.

The fourth consecutive and targeted blow to Iran's nuclear program was the assassination of Fakhrizadeh.

By adding up all these developments, one may conclude that the Israeli government wants to say that along with advancing the strategy of "maximum weakening" of Tehran in other areas, and relying on its intelligence dominance, it will never allow Iran to cross the redlines.

According to Israeli media reports released in May 2018, Fakhrizadeh's assassination was also high on the Mossad list from late 2005 to late 2008. Still, Israeli officials argued that his survival would help a closer pursuit of Iran's nuclear program. Therefore, they shelved Fakhrizadeh's assassination plot.

Fakhrizadeh's assassination could send the message that despite Iran's and especially the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' claims about its "security power" and "intensified protection umbrella," Israel still has the power to carry out its decisions.

Although it is still unclear why Fakhrizadeh was nominated again for assassination, it is evident that Israel has succeeded in showing its dominance on intelligence affairs in the region.

Additionally, the removal of Fakhrizadeh could harm negotiations between Iran and the United States, paving the way for Washington to rejoin the JCPOA.

Israeli officials are not shying away from any action to delay or neutralize a new round of Tehran-Washington talks and its outcome. Simultaneously, they seem to be sending the message that even if the negotiations start and they do not receive enough political support from the United States, they have the motivation, will, and power to strike lethally.

Their message to the clergy-dominated establishment in Iran is clear: "With the advent of the Biden administration, even if the 'maximum pressure' on Iran is lifted, there will be no significant change in the grand strategy of 'maximum undermining' Tehran's ambitious programs, and Israel has the power to do so."

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    Reza Haqiqatnezhad

    Reza Haqiqatnezhad was a well-known journalist in Iran until he left the country a few years ago and he is now a political analyst at Radio Farda.