Iran’s president on Saturday accused Israel of killing a prominent Iranian scientist long suspected by the West of masterminding a secret nuclear bomb programme, state TV reported.
Iran’s clerical and military rulers have threatened revenge for Friday’s killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who Iranian media said died in hospital after assassins gunned him down in his car near Tehran.
“Once again, the evil hands of global arrogance were stained with the blood of the mercenary usurper Zionist regime,” a term for Israel, President Hassan Rouhani said in a statement, according to state TV.
“The assassination of martyr Fakhrizadeh shows our enemies’ despair and the depth of their hatred... His martyrdom will not slow down our achievements.”
The death of Fakhrizadeh could provoke confrontation between Iran and its foes in the last weeks of Donald Trump’s US presidency while complicating any effort by President-elect Joe Biden to revive the detente of Barack Obama’s presidency.
Iran also said there are “serious indications of Israeli responsibility” in the assassination of an Iranian scientist and it reserves the right to defend itself, the country wrote in a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the UN Security Council on Friday.
“Warning against any adventuristic measures by the United States and Israel against my country, particularly during the remaining period of the current administration of the United States in office, the Islamic Republic of Iran reserves its rights to take all necessary measures to defend its people and secure its interests,” Iran’s UN envoy, Majid Takht Ravanchi, wrote in the letter, which was seen by Reuters.
The death of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who Iranian media said died in hospital after armed assassins gunned him down in his car.
Iran pointed the finger at Israel, while implying the killing had the blessing of the departing Trump. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter of “serious indications of (an) Israeli role”.
The military adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed to “strike as thunder at the killers of this oppressed martyr”. “In the last days of the political life of their ... ally (Trump), the Zionists seek to intensify pressure on Iran and create a full-blown war,” Hossein Dehghan tweeted.
Channels of the Telegram encrypted messaging app believed to be close to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards reported that the top security body, the Supreme National Security Council, convened an emergency meeting with senior military commanders present.
Israel declined to comment. The White House, Pentagon, U.S. State Department and CIA also declined to comment, as did Biden’s transition team.
Fakhrizadeh has been described by Western and Israeli intelligence services for years as the mysterious leader of a covert atomic bomb programme halted in 2003, which Israel and the United States accuse Tehran of trying to restore. Iran has long denied seeking to weaponise nuclear energy.