Murdering Nuclear Scientists does not Prevent Proliferation, a Nuclear Free Middle East does

6 Dec

[Prefatory Note: The post below is the text of an interview published in the Tehran Times on 2 Dec. 2020 in resins t questions posed by Zahra Mirzafarjouyan .

Fakhrizadeh assassination not justifiable

Fakhrizadeh assassination not justifiable by any theories

TEHRAN, Dec. 02 (MNA) – Richard Falk says the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh cannot be legally, morally, or politically justified by any acceptable theory justifying the use of international force, and has very negative implications as an international precedent confirming prior political assassinations of nuclear scientiists and opponents in recent years by drone strikes and other methods of attack as in this instance..

Top Iranian nuclear and defence scientist ‘Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh’, who headed the Iranian Defense Ministry’s Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research (known by its acronym SPND), was targeted on Friday in a multi-pronged attack involving at least one explosion and small fire by a number of assailants in Absard city of Damavand County, Tehran Province.

New York Times quoted intelligence officials as saying that Israel regime was behind the assassination of Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

“One American official — along with two other intelligence officials — said that Israel was behind the attack on the scientist,” New York Times reported, adding, “It was unclear how much the United States may have known about the operation in advance, but the two nations are the closest of allies and have long shared intelligence regarding Iran.”

The assassination of Iranian scientist Fakhrizadeh provoked many reactions in the region and the world but in the meantime, the silence of many human rights defenders in not condemning this assassination is debatable.

In this regard, the Iranian Foreign Minister had condemned the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and called on the international community not to remain silent in the face of this terrorist act and to abandon double standards and condemn the act of state-sponsored assassination.

The scene where Moshen Fakhrizadeh assassinated on Nov. 27, 2020

To know more about the issue, we reached out to Richard Anderson Falk, American professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University.

Following is the text of our interview with him]

Isn’t the assassination of the Iranian scientist against international law and norms?

Fakhrizadeh’s assassination cannot be legally & politically justified by any acceptable theory governing the use of force international relations and has very negative implications as an international precedent. Yes, it is a targeted use of international force against someone outside the combat zone that cannot be justified by a valid claim of self-defense, which by the UN Charter, requires a prior armed attack, or at least a well-documented threat of the imminence of such an attack. This assassination of a nuclear scientist amounts to an unlawful ‘extra-judicial execution,’ which the UN Human Rights Council has unconditionally condemned on several occasion. 

In the case of Afghanistan and its so-called ‘War on Terror,’ the US justified drone assassinations in various parts of the world either by an anti-terrorist rationale or by the contention that a hot battlefield has been extended to foreign countries if linked to a particular terrorist organization. Israel has resorted to extra-territorial assassinations since its inception despite frequent condemnations, as well as provocative assassinations in Occupied Palestine since 1967.

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh cannot be legally, morally, or politically justified by any acceptable rationale, and has very negative implications as an international precedent.

Many believe the terrorist act has been committed by the Israeli regime. What do you think of this?

I find all forms of state terrorism to be unlawful, amounting to international crimes, and morally indefensible, especially aggravated when directed at civilians inhabiting countries which are at peace with one another, even if relations are strained by unresolved disputes.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife step off a plane in Tel Aviv, Nov. 18, 2020

Can such an act by the Israeli regime be done without coordination with Trump?

As such coordination is rarely acknowledged, we can only surmise that it occurs, and has been confirmed in the past, including in relation to Iran’s nuclear program. Given the timing of Pompeo’s visit to Israel prior to the assassination and after Trump was defeated in the U.S. presidential elections in November constitutes strong circumstantial evidence of knowledge before the event, if not active coordination. Israel’s failure to make any effort to deny their role in the assassination is also relevant.

Why have the terrors been focused on Iranian nuclear and defensive elites?

Israel, US, and likely Saudi Arabia have been carrying on an unlawful destabilization campaign against Iran for many years, which has intensified during the Trump presidency. Such a focus corresponds with Israel’s security narrative, which seems to have been unconditionally accepted in Washington during the Trump presidency. It alleges that Israel’s longer-range security is threatened by Iran’s nuclear program, which it further alleges seeks to gain a capability to develop produce nuclear weapons, a concern that is reinforced by claims that its immediate security is currently jeopardized by Iran’s large arsenal of sophisticated precision-guided missiles. Israel may feel emboldened by both Trump support and likely departure from the American presidency on January 20th, and further by the recent normalization agreements with the UAE and Bahrain.

What can be the consequences of such a criminal irresponsible act?

The Iranian choice of diplomacy versus some form of military retaliation will likely shape the future with respect to ‘consequences’ The chain of consequences initially depends on how and when Iran chooses to respond, essentially whether it awaits Biden’s inauguration as the US President on January 20th, hoping for a renewal of US participation in the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action (JCPOA)(2015 Agreement on Iran’s Nuclear Program), including the lifting of all sanctions. The Iranian choice of diplomacy versus some form of military retaliation will likely dominate future developments with respect to ‘consequences.’

There are other uncertainties. (1) will Trump/Netanyahu seek to provoke Iran by further aggressive actions in the interim before the Biden inauguration? (2) will Biden follow the Obama path toward diplomacy or be more guided by a policy that strikes a compromise between Obama’s and Trump’s approach? Such a compromise would extend the 2015 arrangement to cover non-nuclear regional security issues affecting Yemen, Gaza, and Lebanon, and possibly Syria, as well as possiby missile deployments. (3) do the normalization agreements between Israel and several Arab governments create a new regional situation that is different than what existed pre-Trump?

What are the goals behind the act considering the timing?

As the act itself has not been officially acknowledged, commentary on its goals is necessarily speculative. The most reasonable interpretation of goals is to provoke Iran so as to give Israel a pretext for retaliation and possibly draw the US into a combat role, and if this fails, to make a diplomatic accommodation with the Biden presidency more problematic for both sides.

Why haven’t European countries condemned the act strongly and somehow they have kept silent?

Europe is hoping mainly for a renewal of its special relationship with the US as soon as Biden takes overEurope has disengaged from active involvement in the region except possibly for France in relation to Lebanon and the East Mediterranean natural gas disputes. Europe is hoping mainly for a renewal of its special relationship with the US as soon as Biden takes over. It does not want to have any distractions from this goal, and it may feel that its future leverage is greater if it pursues equidistance diplomacy that appears not to take sides in this central confrontation between Iran and the Arab/Israel security partnership.

2 Responses to “Murdering Nuclear Scientists does not Prevent Proliferation, a Nuclear Free Middle East does”

  1. Beau Oolayforos December 7, 2020 at 5:43 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    The Iranians, at least, are claiming that their scientist was killed using satellite-assisted weaponry. We’ve heard much about drone killings; now we have murders from space. Is this what the future looks like?

    Whether Trump or his henchmen actually knew the timing of this murder is irrelevant. All it took to kill Khasoggi was a silent nod from MBS. The purpose of Pompeo’s recent junket was to assure the Israelis that the nods are to be taken for granted, at least until Jan 20.

    Meanwhile, the Trumpies try to poison the water as much as possible. Like Saddam Hussein, wrecking the Kuwaiti oil wells on his way out of town, this is what frustrated tyrants do when forced from power.

  2. Mike 71 December 11, 2020 at 11:17 am #

    It appears that Iran’s commitments to a nuclear weapon free Middle-East are belied by Iran’s nuclear weapons development program and the statement of Dr. Fakhrizadeh, recorded by Israeli Intelligence, that he wanted to produce five nuclear warheads. Some Iranians, expressing the view that they didn’t want Natanz and Isfahan to become synonymous with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, hung an Israeli flag, with a sign underneath it, on an overpass over a road named for the late General Qassem Soleimani. The sign in English, read “Thank You Mossad!”

    Had Imperial Japanese General Hideki Tojo suspected what was coming on August 6th and 9th, 1945, he would have tried to take out J.Robert Oppenheimer, father of the American bomb. But, Israeli Intelligence has tools that were unavailable to Tojo.

    The JCPOA has duration and coverage limitations, which make it next to useless in preventing nuclear proliferation. The 1996 International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on the use of nuclear weapons states in relevant part:

    “Accordingly, in view of the present state of International Law, viewed as a whole, as examined by the Court, and of the elements of fact at its disposal, the Court is led to observe that it cannot reach a definitive conclusion as to the legality, or illegality of the use of nuclear weapons by a state in an extreme circumstance of self-defense which it’s very survival would be at stake.”

    Paragraph 97 of the Court’s Advisory Opinion

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