TEHRAN: Iran’s Presi­dent Hassan Rouhani on Sat­urday accused arch-foe Isr­ael of acting as a “mercenary” for the United States and seeking to create chaos, vowing Tehran would ave­nge the assassination of a top Iranian nuclear scientist.

Islamic Republic’s sup­reme leader Ayatollah Ali Kha­menei called for the perpetrators to be punished for Friday’s killing, while Rouhani stressed the country would seek its revenge in “due time” and not be rushed into a “trap”.

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was dubbed by Israel the “father of Iran’s nuclear programme”, died after being seriously wounded when assailants targeted his car and engaged in a gunfight with his bodyguards outside the capital Tehran on Friday, according to Iran’s defence ministry.

The assassination comes less than two months before US President-elect Joe Bid­en is due to take office, after a tumultuous four years of hawkish US foreign policy in the Middle East under President Donald Trump.

“They are thinking of creating chaos, but they should know that we have read their hands and they will not succeed,” Iran’s president said in televised remarks.

He pinned the blame for the killing on “the wicked hands of the global arrog­a­nce, with the usurper Zion­ist regime as the mercenary”.

Iran generally uses the term “global arrogance” to refer to the United States.

Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018 from a multilateral nuclear deal with the Islamic republic, which sought to contain its atomic ambitions, and has re-imposed crippling sanctions. But Biden has signalled his administration may be prepared to rejoin the accord.

“This barbaric assassination shows that our enemies are in stressful weeks, during which they feel... their pressure declining, the global situation changing,” the Iranian president added.

“The nation of Iran is smarter than to fall in the trap of the conspiracy set by the Zionists,” Rouhani said in televised remarks.

`Punish the perpetrators’

The United States slapped sanctions on Fakhrizadeh in 2008 for “activities and transactions that contributed to the development of Iran’s nuclear programme”, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once described him as the father of Iran’s nuclear weapons programme.

Iran has repeatedly denied seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

The New York Times said an American official and two other intelligence officials confirmed Israel was behind the attack, without giving further details.

“Iran’s enemies should know, that the people of Iran and officials are braver than to leave this criminal act unanswered,” Rouhani added, talking at Iran’s weekly Covid-19 task force meeting.

“In due time, they will answer for this crime.” Former CIA director John Brennan warned on Friday that the assassination risked sparking a wider conflagration in the Middle East.

“This was a criminal act and highly reckless. It risks lethal retaliation and a new round of regional conflict,” Brennan tweeted.

Khamenei called for “punishing the perpetrators and those responsible,” in a short statement on his official website, urging that Fakhrizadeh’s “scientific and technical efforts ... in all of the fields he was working in” should be continued.

Fakhrizadeh, who headed the defence ministry’s research and innovation organisation, died after medics failed to revive him following the attack near Absard city in Tehran province’s eastern Damavand county.

Israel has refused to comment on the assassination, but Israeli Channel 12 television reported on Saturday that the level of alert had been raised in its embassies worldwide. A spokeswoman for the Israeli foreign ministry in Jerusalem refused to confirm the report.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia early on Saturday “strongly” condemned the “terrorist operation that led to the martyrdom” of Fakhrizadeh.

The killing of Fakhrizadeh is the latest in a series of killings of nuclear scientists in Iran in recent years that the Islamic republic has blamed on Israel.

US media reports described Fakhrizadeh as the “No. 1 target of the Mossad”, Israel’s spy agency, and the “brains behind Iran’s nuclear programme”.

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2020

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