‘Killing of Iran’s Nuclear Scientist’ Complicates Joe Biden’s Middle East Plan

US President-elect Joe Biden pledge to reengage with Tehran, following the assassination of a top Iranian nuclear scientist Biden faces new challenges on the Middle East plan.

The killing quickly led to recriminations from Iran’s leaders and could embolden hard-liners who do not want to see the two countries rebuild their relations.

Biden’s allies argue the assassination was a criminal act that has recklessly raised tensions in the region and was aimed at undermining the president-elect’s goal of putting the U.S. back in the international nuclear deal with Iran, negotiated by the Obama administration and fiercely opposed by Israel and the Trump administration.

“This was a criminal act & highly reckless,” John Brennan, who served as CIA director under former President Obama, wrote on Twitter. “It risks lethal retaliation & a new round of regional conflict. Iranian leaders would be wise to wait for the return of responsible American leadership on the global stage & to resist the urge to respond against perceived culprits.”

Israel has not commented on the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, known as the father of Iran’s nuclear program, but is widely suspected of having carried it out.

Fakhrizadeh was killed Friday in an ambush on the outskirts of Tehran. At Fakhrizadeh’s funeral on Monday, a top Iranian official accused Israel of using “electronic devices” to remotely kill him.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu previously singled out Fakhrizadeh for his role in Iran’s nuclear program, warning the world to “remember that name” during a 2018 speech revealing an archive of stolen Iranian nuclear plans.

Eliminating Fakhrizadeh is unlikely to disrupt the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions, experts argue.But the attack is testing Tehran’s patience in preserving a path to negotiations with the Biden administration and the former vice president’s push to bring the U.S. back to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the official name for the 2015 nuclear deal.

“The JCPOA was the real target, [with] Dr. Fakhrizadeh just a collateral, and probably not the last until the moment Biden is sworn into office,” said Ali Afoneh, a senior fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington who recently published a book on political succession in Iran.

“This said, I am somewhat impressed by the acumen of the political leadership in Tehran: The Islamic Republic has hitherto practiced strategic patience in response to Israel’s attempts at luring it into a direct confrontation, and I’m not expecting change in that behavior in the course of the next couple of weeks. This is good news for the Biden administration and the prospects for U.S.-Iran negotiations,” he added.

Biden and his advisers have said he is ready to rejoin the nuclear deal if Iran, which started breaking key limits of the agreement after Trump re-imposed harsh sanctions,

“If Iran is prepared to return to compliance with the Iran nuclear deal, what’s called the JCPOA, then the United States is prepared to return to compliance with its obligations under the Iran nuclear deal, and then we would work intensively on follow-on agreements to address a range of different issues related to Iran’s nuclear program, including timelines, and including other questions that were not within the remit of the original JCPOA,” Jake Sullivan, whom Biden has tapped to be his national security adviser, said last week at a virtual University of Minnesota event.

Several prominent progressive Democrats have raised concerns the assassination was meant to derail any forthcoming diplomatic efforts from the Biden administration.

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