LONDON – Revelations that an Iranian soldier was involved in planning the assassination of the country’s top nuclear scientist have led to a rare public row between organs of the regime.
Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi told a TV interviewer that an army recruit had carried out advance planning for the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh — widely believed to have been masterminded by Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.
Fakhrizadeh was seen as the brains behind Iran’s nascent nuclear program, and was shot dead by an automated machine gun outside Tehran in November.
Alavi said the suspect was a former soldier that has now fled the country, and his intelligence operation could not monitor him because it could not spy on members of the armed forces.
His comments earned a rare public rebuke from the military, which issued a statement saying the accused was only briefly a recruit and was dismissed due to “moral issues and addiction.”
More importantly, the military tried to shift the blame for the killing to the intelligence services, saying because he was a civilian it was their responsibility to monitor him.
The public spat reflects the regime’s embarrassment at allowing a senior member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and an important figurehead in Iran’s nuclear program to be assassinated.
The killing of Fakhrizadeh was seen as a significant blow to the nuclear program, which Iran continues to push forward with at increasing pace.
Last week, Tehran announced that it would begin producing uranium metal — a component required in nuclear weaponry — in violation of the terms of the 2015 deal, which eased sanctions on Iran in exchange for a curtailing of its nuclear program.
Its increasing nuclear activity has led to a rapid deterioration in relations between Tehran and the Biden administration, which insists that Iran return to the terms of the 2015 deal before Washington considers lifting Trump-era sanctions.