Iran's Rouhani Vows Revenge for Scientist Assassination As Israel Braces for Possible Terror Attacks

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has again vowed revenge for the assassination of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh last week, an operation for which Tehran blames Israel.

Rouhani made the comments during a call with Turkish President Recep Tayyipp Erdogan on Thursday, Iran's state-run Mehr News Agency reported.

The president—whose term is ending next summer—also said Iran remains open to rejoining the beleaguered Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal if projected President-elect Joe Biden restores U.S. compliance.

"The assassination of this scientist was a great crime and inhumane act," Rouhani said of Fakhrizadeh's assassination.

The scientist was widely considered the father of Iran's nuclear project, and his killing marks a serious escalation in Israeli-American efforts to undermine Tehran's nuclear program and undermine a potential revival of dialogue under the incoming Biden administration.

Israel has denied to confirm or deny its involvement, per longstanding policy. Multiple reports have cited unnamed U.S. intelligence officials who credit Israel with the operation.

The White House, Pentagon, National Security Council and State Department have thus far refused to comment on the killing or clarify whether the U.S. was aware of, or gave approval to, the plan.

"Undoubtedly, this terrorist act shows the helplessness and inability of the sworn enemies of the Iranian nation against the scientific and research movements of our scientists and it is the right of the Iranian government to take revenge on the blood of this martyr from the perpetrators at the right time," Rouhani said.

Biden has said it is "hard to tell" how much the Fakhrizdeh assassination would impact his efforts to revive the JCPOA. He also told CNN: "The bottom line is that we can't allow Iran to get nuclear weapons," and said his push to prevent this would involve American allies and other JCPOA signatories.

Despite the killing, Rouhani said Tehran is still open to discussions. "We have repeatedly emphasised that if the other parties to this agreement fulfil their obligations, we will fulfil our obligations as well," he said Thursday.

But President Donald Trump will remain in office until January 20, in which time he and his Israeli allies may choose to apply more pressure on Iran.

Both the U.S. and Israel are now bracing for potential Iranian retaliation. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad—regularly targeted by Iranian-backed Iraqi militias—is reportedly temporarily reducing staff numbers amid security concerns, for example.

And Israel's counter-terrorism bureau said Thursday that Iran may launch attacks against Israeli interests and civilians in regional nations including Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

"In light of threats recently coming from Iranian agents and in light of Iranian agents' past involvement in terror attacks in various countries, there is concern that Iran will try to act in such a way against Israeli targets," the bureau said.

Tehran has previously targeted Israelis abroad in retaliation for Israeli attacks inside Iran. In 2012, for example, Israel blamed Iranian-linked Hezbollah militants for blowing up a tourist bus in Bulgaria killing five Israelis.

Iran has always denied involvement and Hezbollah has refused to comment. The attack was believed to be retaliation for Israeli killings of Iranian nuclear scientists.

Israel, Iran, US, Rouhani, Fakhrizadeh, retaliation, terrorism
Israeli self-propelled howitzers are positioned in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on the border with Syria, on November 28. JALAA MAREY/AFP via Getty Images/Getty