Iran newspaper: Strike Haifa if Israel killed scientist

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — An opinion piece published Sunday by a hard-line Iranian newspaper urged Iran to attack the Israeli port city of Haifa if Israel carried out the killing of the scientist who founded the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program in the early 2000s.

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.”

Israel, suspected of killing Iranian nuclear scientists over the past decade, has not commented on the brazen slaying of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. A military-style ambush Friday on the outskirts of Tehran reportedly saw a truck bomb explode and gunmen open fire on the scientist, killing him and a bodyguard.

U.S. intelligence agencies and U.N. nuclear inspectors have said the organised military nuclear programme that Fakhrizadeh oversaw disbanded in 2003, but Israeli suspicion of Tehran’s atomic programme and his involvement has never ceased.

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 U.S. drone strike in 

Baghdad that killed a top Iranian general in January.

Striking the Israeli city of Haifa and killing a large number of people “will definitely lead to deterrence, because the United States and the Israeli regime and its agents are by no means ready to take part in a war and a military confrontation,” Zarei wrote.

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.

Such a strike likely would draw an immediate Israeli retaliation and spark a wider conflict across the Mideast. While Iran has never directly targeted an Israeli city militarily, it has conducted attacks targeting Israeli interests abroad in the past over the killing of its scientists, like in the case of the three Iranians recently freed in Thailand in exchange for a detained British-Australian academic.

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.

A public session of lawmakers 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.

The deal unraveled after Trump’s unilateral 2018 withdrawal of the U.S. from the accord.

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 programme 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 programme” ended in 2003. U.S. intelligence agencies concurred with that assessment in a 2007 report.

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 programme.”

The damage of his death “cannot be measured since nobody knows exactly the scope and the depth of what the Iranians are doing covertly,” Yadlin said. “But no doubt that he was the core source of authority, knowledge and organization of this programme.”

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.

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