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Maximum pressure campaign escalates with Fakhrizadeh killing

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran’s military nuclear program, is a new height in the maximum pressure campaign led by the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government against Iran.

Why it matters: It exceeds the capture of the Iranian nuclear archives by the Mossad, and the sabotage in the advanced centrifuge facility in Natanz.

  • Israel didn’t take responsibility for the assassination, but the New York Times reported it was Israeli agents who killed Fakhrizade, citing intelligence officials.
  • Iran blamed Israel for the assassination and threatened revenge. But unlike the almost immediate retaliation against U.S. bases in Iraq for the U.S. killing of Quds force commander Qassin Soleimani, this time the Iranians will need more time to prepare their response.

The big picture: The physicist Fakhrizade was to the Iranian nuclear program whatSoleimani was to Iran’s covert activity in the region. Taking him out couldhave a similar effect.

  • Iranian army commander Mohammed Bagheri admitted the assassination was a huge blow to the Iranian defense establishment.
  • Israeli officials briefed several media outlets in Israel that without Fakhrizade it will be hard for Iran to continue its nuclear program.

The other side: The Iranian nuclear program has made huge progress and is not dependent on one person.

  • Fakhrizadeh had special organizational and management skills and was very dominant inside the Iranian defense establishment, but the Iranian nuclear program will continue after his death.

Between the lines: The killing of Fakhrizadeh comes as part of what seems as an effort by the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government to use the time left until President-elect Joe Biden assumes office for more pressure on Iran.

  • The Trump administration hasn’t concealed its ambition to make it harder for Biden to renew talks with Iran and rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal. Sanctions, covert operations and threats for military strike are part of this effort.
  • The trilateral meeting between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in Saudi Arabia on Sunday was also part of the effort to raise the pressure on Iran and send a message to the Biden administration.

What’s next: The tension with Iran, which is high in normal days, is expected to rise ahead of January 20th. After the killing of Fakhrizadeh and possibly more actions against Iran by the U.S. and Israel, the Biden administration is expected to find a much more complicated reality that might make it harder to reengage with Tehran.

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