Mohsen Fakhrizadeh laid to rest in Mashhad, Iran
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh laid to rest in Mashhad, Iran Reuters

The assassination of top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was a massive blow to Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, says a former White House National Security Council expert on Iran.

Richard Goldberg, the former Director for Countering Iranian Weapons of Mass Destruction for the White House National Security Council, spoke with GaleiTzahal’s Efi Triger about the assassination, and the potential for more comprehensive military efforts by Israel or the US to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

“The loss of Fakhrizadeh is really something that we cannot understate for the Iranians. They obviously still have other scientists around from the time of the AMAD plan” – referring to Iran’s official nuclear program from 1989 to 2003.

“We don’t know what other activities they have been engaging in to date. There is obviously still an active investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency into the undeclared nuclear activities, sites, and materials.”

“We are still seeing them play the nuclear extortion game, attempting to increase their level of enriched uranium as sort of an extortion tool as the Biden administration comes into office, to threaten them and say, ‘If you pay us and relieve sanctions and give us money, we may reduce or limit the stockpile’.”

What signs do you see of Biden falling into Iran’s nuclear extortion trap?

“President-elect Biden gave an interview to a very prominent columnist at The New York Times, Thomas Friedman, in which he said that he is very determined to go back into the Iran nuclear deal… if Iran comes back into compliance with the deal.”

“He was asked whether he should use the leverage from sanctions built up, to keep them in place to be able to get a better deal than the current one, to be able to address issues like Iran’s missile program and its sponsorship of terrorism across the Middle East. And his answer was, ‘No, nothing is more important than containing the nuclear program and their enrichment.’”

“This is unfortunate because there is an enormous amount of leverage the Trump administration has built up over Iran. The Iranian economy is truly on the verge of collapse.”

Are Israel and the US capable today of delivering a blow to Iran’s nuclear program if push comes to shove?

“I believe that both of our militaries, particularly if we work together, are absolutely capable of removing the Iranian threat, should we choose to do so.”

“There is, of course, risk in any military action. There is also the question of whether or not you can permanently remove a threat or simply delay a threat if the regime continues to rebuild and reconstitute.”

The Abraham Accords, Goldberg continued, have made an airstrike on Iran more viable, potentially giving Israel access to airspace and airfields close to Iran’s borders. Even if Israel does not strike, the possibility of a joint effort by Israel and the Gulf Arab states to attack Iran will force Tehran to alter its security arrangements.

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