T2B20: Iran on my mind

In round two of the quick updates genre, the big transition news from yesterday was the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the Iranian nuclear scientist who was supposedly the head of their covert nuclear (pronounced nucular in a Dubya accent) weapons program. Rumor is the hit was done by Mossad and I would be very surprised if it didn’t have Trump’s direct approval.

Fakhrizadeh’s assassination is the third targeted killing this year:

  1. Qassem Suleimani killed in a drone attack on Jan 3rd.

  2. The number 2 in Al-Qaeda - Abu Muhammad al-Masri - gunned down on the streets of Tehran by two assassins on a motorcycle on Aug. 7 - by Israel but on US order. Interesting that a Salafi Al-Qaeda member was hiding in Shia Iran in the first place. Another interesting tidbit - al-Masri was once a professional football (soccer) player. Bin-Laden was also in a football team and a major football fan - there’s a football theory of terrorism that needs further exploration, i.e., sports, meals and intermarriage are often used as methods for building solidarity, not just by armed groups.

  3. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh this week.

Targeted killings are - of course - illegal under international law, but who cares about international law? Are they a good thing or a bad thing? Here’s a thought:

Assassinations are better than war

It’s because assassinations directly target the decision makers without endangering the populace as a whole. It’s a tough choice but I would choose assassinations over ‘bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.’ Of course, that depends on being able to get access to their targets, which the US and Israel seem to have accomplished. If I were an Iranian leader, I would be way more upset about the compromised nature of my own security apparatus - not that they will ever say that in public. Israel/US have penetrated deep into the Iranian system and no one’s safe, even at the very highest levels.

But some American officials argued that Mr. Fakhrizadeh’s death, the latest in a string of such killings of Iran’s top nuclear scientists that date back a dozen years, amplifies the chilling message to the country’s other top scientists working on that program: If the well-guarded head cannot be protected, neither can anyone else.

I predict targeted killings will be a growth industry. Drone and other surveillance and assassination technologies have come far enough that it’s possible to go after specific individuals. At some point in the near future we might reach an assassination version of the infamous MAD (mutually assured destruction) doctrine that the US and the Soviets had in the era of nuclear weapons.

The noise on the street is about what this assassination will do to the Iran deal, that it might make it harder for Biden to bring the Iranians to the table, since their hardliners will want revenge. The assassination is one of many foreign policy ‘parting shots’ from Trump’s administration. From the NYT:

During the past four years Mr. Trump has not spent much time thinking about policy, but he has shown a penchant for striking back at his adversaries. And with his encouragement, top officials are racing against the clock to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, secure oil drilling leases in Alaska, punish China, carry out executions and thwart any plans Mr. Biden might have to reestablish the Iran nuclear deal.

I have a nonlinear theory that Biden will turn Trump’s moves to his advantage: since he can accurately portray the Republicans as mad dogs who will assassinate/sanction/bomb all opposition, Biden might be able to bring the Chinese and the Iranians to the negotiating table if he plays his cards right.

The future, as always, is very hard to predict