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West Asia in turmoil after Iran scientist Fakhrizadeh's killing

West Asia in turmoil after Iran scientist Fakhrizadeh's killing

Yet another Iranian nuclear scientist has been killed. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated near Tehran on Friday after his car was ambushed by gunmen. Fakhrizadeh is the fifth Iranian nuclear scientist to have been killed in the last decade.

Fakhrizadeh is believed to have been leading the Iranian nuclear weapons programme. Iran has been accused of developing nuclear weapons, but Tehran has denied these accusations. The UN inspectors belonging to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have also not found any evidence that Iran has a atomic weapons programme.

Nuclear weapons require uranium to be enriched to a purity of 90 per cent or above. So far, Iran has enriched uranium under IAEA supervision well below that threshold. Low-enriched uranium – which
has a concentration of between 3% and 5% of U-235 – can be used to produce fuel for power plants.

In 2015, Iran reached an agreement with the US, the UK, France, Russia, China and Germany, called the P5+1, to cap its nuclear programme and allow inspectors from the IAEA to inspect its facilities. In lieu of this, international economic sanctions were lifted. Under the agreement, Iran also agreed to stop research and development of a nuclear weapon.

However, in 2018, US President Donald Trump decided to unilaterally reimpose sanctions against Iran and threatened sanctions against countries that would trade with Iran. US allies including the UK, France and Germany did not support the US on this decision. But, with the re-imposition of sanctions, Iranian economy went down and people began facing hardships, forcing Iran to renege on its nuclear agreement with the P5+1.

As tensions were high with the US under Trump, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani recently hoped that Joe Biden would withdraw the unilateral sanctions against Iran and honour the 2015 deal. Iranian news agency IRNA quoted him as saying: "Now, an opportunity has come up for the next US administration to compensate for past mistakes and return to the path of complying with international agreements through respect of international norms.”

Rouhani has blamed Israel for Fakhrizadeh's assassination. He added that Iran would retaliate over the killing at a time of its choosing. Israel has, however, not chosen to comment on the incident.

The UN has condemned the killing. Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement: "We have noted the reports that an Iranian nuclear scientist has been assassinated near Tehran today. We urge restraint and the need to avoid any actions that could lead to an escalation of tensions in the region."

Between 2010 and 2012, four Iranian nuclear scientists had been killed. While two were shot dead, the other two were killed in car bomb explosions. Though Iran blamed Israeli intelligence agency Mossad for these killings, suspicion also rested on the US and Arab groups.

In January this year, a senior Iranian general, Qasem Sulemani was killed by US security forces in a drone attack near the Baghdad International Airport. This incident dampened relations between Iraq
and the US and the former asked the US to reduce its presence in the country.

Fakhrizadeh's assassination comes at a time when West Asian countries are in the middle of breaking long-standing animosities and embracing the US-brokered Abraham Accords that establish diplomatic relations between various countries and Israel..