column

Fakhrizadeh’s welcome death enrages American ‘doves’

Caught between economic pressure and surgical strikes, the Iranian regime is in a panic. But U.S. diplomacy obsessives are waiting in the wings to resume appeasement.  

Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes addresses journalists on the foreign-policy priorities of the Obama administration, in particular a deal to hold Iran's nuclear program at bay, at the Foreign Press Center in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 29, 2014. Credit: U.S. State Department.
Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes addresses journalists on the foreign-policy priorities of the Obama administration, in particular a deal to hold Iran's nuclear program at bay, at the Foreign Press Center in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 29, 2014. Credit: U.S. State Department.
Ruthie Blum. Credit: Courtesy.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, an author and award-winning columnist, is a former adviser at the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Tehran’s hysterical response to the assassination on Friday afternoon of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh is understandable. Fakhrizadeh was not only the latest Iranian scientist to be eliminated; he was the head of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear-weapons program that the mullah-led regime continues to deny. Furthermore, the inability of the regime to prevent the infiltration of foreign operatives and protect the lives of prominent figures such as Fakhrizadeh is a sign of weakness and thus a source of humiliation.

In addition, the targeted killing that everyone assumes was carried out by Israel—with the tacit approval of or hands-on help from the United States—came two days after U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Elliott Abrams announced Trump administration plans to tighten sanctions on Iran.

“We will have next week, and the week after, and the week after—all through December and January, there will be sanctions that deal with arms, that deal with weapons of mass destruction, that deal with human rights,” Abrams said at a virtual Beirut Institute event. “So, this will continue on for another couple of months, right until the end.”

In other words, up to Jan. 20 when Joe Biden is slated to assume the Oval Office, U.S. President Donald Trump doesn’t intend to succumb to lame-duck laziness and let Iran conduct business as usual.

Caught in a vise grip of economic pressure on one side and strategic surgical strikes on the other, while contending internally with a highly disgruntled populace, Iranian officials are in a panic. This explains the rise in pitch of their characteristically violent rhetoric against Israel, the “small Satan,” and America, the “great Satan.”

Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami, for example, directed one of his customary threats at both, without naming them specifically.

“Enemies should await our response,” he said on Monday at Fakhrizadeh’s funeral, held at the Iranian Defense Ministry in Mashhad. “We [will] determine the time, place and quality of the [retaliation], but the punishment of the perpetrators and commanders is sure [to come].”

A day earlier, an op-ed in the regime-controlled Kayan newspaper called for a military attack on Haifa. In the article, Iranian analyst Sadollah Zarei wrote that such an attack, aimed at “causing heavy human casualties,” should outdo Iran’s missile strike against U.S. forces in Iraq after America’s assassination in January of Salami’s predecessor, IRGC commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Though neither Jerusalem nor Washington has confirmed involvement in Fakhrizadeh’s death, Israel’s Foreign Ministry issued security warnings to its envoys abroad, and Trump retweeted a post by Haaretz military analyst Yossi Melman, which touted the killing as “a major psychological and professional blow for Iran.”

Indeed, during a briefing in 2018, Netanyahu highlighted Fakhrizadeh’s role in Iran’s clandestine nuclear-weapons program. “Mission accomplished,” then, would be an apt description of the hit.

Good news for the West, right?

Not according to former U.S. President Barack Obama’s old network of diplomacy obsessives. You know, those “doves” hot to return to the disastrous Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran from which Trump withdrew in 2018.

Two never-Trumpers and Netanyahu-bashers worthy of note are former CIA director John Brennan and former Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes.

Likening the assassination to “state-sponsored terrorism,” Brennan called it “a criminal act and highly reckless,” tweeting on Friday night that it “risks lethal retaliation and a new round of regional conflict.”

As if this weren’t predictable and ridiculous enough, Brennan went on to say that “Iranian leaders would be wise to wait for the return of responsible American leadership on the global stage and to resist the urge to respond against perceived culprits.”

Yes, the previous head of America’s Central Intelligence Agency wants his buddies in Tehran to sit tight for a few weeks until the ayatollah-appeasers are back in the White House and State Department. It’s not for nothing that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and puppet President Hassan Rouhani were praying to Allah for a Biden victory.

Then there’s Rhodes. His reaction, just as undoubtedly pleasing to the powers-that-be in Tehran, was a bit punchier than Brennan’s. “This is an outrageous action aimed at undermining diplomacy between an incoming U.S. administration and Iran,” he tweeted. “It’s time for this ceaseless escalation to stop.”

Let’s not forget that it’s Rhodes who boasted of having “created an echo chamber” for the clueless members of the press to receive enough misinformation about the JCPOA to make them champion it. “[Reporters] were saying things that validated what we had given them to say,” he told David Samuels in a 2016 profile in The New York Times Magazine.

Though the cat is out of the bag about Rhodes’s calculated move to sell the JCPOA through misrepresentation, White House correspondents are just as likely, come January, to buy the same lies about it as they did before Trump’s election.

While Iran finishes mourning for and then replacing Fakhrizadeh, the regime in Tehran might as well bide its time for the likes and successors of Brennan and Rhodes to retake center stage in America. If and when they do, the rest of Iran’s foes in the United States and elsewhere will have no recourse but to rely solely on Israel.

Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”

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