Conservative politicians are demanding retaliation after the attack on nuclear scientist Fachrisadeh. President Rouhani’s government is in a dilemma.
By Karin Senz, ARD Studio Istanbul
After the attack on the Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fachrisadeh, Israel increased the protection of its embassies worldwide. One is preparing for an act of revenge by the Iranians. But what it might look like and when, we can only speculate about it at the moment. Many do not expect a quick reaction, even with a view to a return to the nuclear deal. The Rouhani government is confident that negotiations with Biden will be possible soon.
These are the familiar images: angry demonstrators with banners that read: “Down with Israel”, “War in the USA”, and the appropriate chants. Eventually they burn Israeli and US flags. But it is far from being a mass demonstration like the one the country witnessed after the death of Iranian General Kassim Soleimani earlier this year.
No comparison to Soleimani
The Tehran expert on international relations Ali Bigdeli explains the difference to the nuclear scientist Fachrisadeh: “Nobody knew him, he wasn’t famous. But everyone knew Soleimani and he was popular,” says Bigdeli. “There was this ceremony for the martyr Soleimani, plus the reactions of high-ranking personalities, especially the Supreme Leader. He wept for Soleimani, and society was infected.”
This is one of the reasons why observers do not expect a reaction as harsh as it was back in January when Iran attacked US positions in Iraq. It sounds different at the demonstrations last weekend: “We demand bitter vengeance against America and Israel,” said one demonstrator. “We have to leave the Non-Proliferation Treaty and kick out all of the agency’s inspectors.” What is meant is the International Atomic Energy Agency, which controls whether Iran adheres to the nuclear agreement.
The conservative parliamentary president Mohammed Bagher Ghalibaf is also calling for revenge for the death of Fachrisadeh on Iranian state radio: “The criminal enemy will only regret the act through a strong reaction that prevents him from making future mistakes and at the same time avenges himself for his crimes.”
Pressure on Biden
Some Middle East experts actually see the attack last Friday as an attack on the Iran policy of the new US President Joe Biden. They want to provoke Tehran to retaliate. Then Israel could force Biden into a conflict.
The timing is precisely chosen, even before the end of US President Donald Trump’s term of office, says Bigdeli: “In the 40 or 50 days that Trump will remain, Israel will let out its anger at Iran again When Biden takes office, the United States may no longer allow Israel to do so. While Israel sometimes feels independent in its atrocities, it cannot commit them without US permission. “
Israel wants to prevent Biden from negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran again, like the hardliners in the country. President Ghalibaf said: “If we raise our hands to negotiate, it will send the wrong message to the enemy. He will misunderstand it and believe that Iran is weak. That in turn would lead to more economic pressure and less security.”
Attack on Haifa?
Bigdeli, the Tehran expert on international relations, sees it the other way round. Iran has to negotiate because it is in a weak position, if only because of the economic crisis. And he also warns against a direct military strike: “It would not be wise to risk the fate of 85 million people for one person. We condemn this act of terrorism, but revenge is not the way to go.”
An Islamist newspaper calls for the Israeli port city of Haifa to be attacked as soon as Israel’s guilt is proven. In retaliation, Iran could resort to allies again. Bigdeli thinks this is unlikely: “None of the groups in the region that could act as proxy dares to take military action against Israel. The groups in Iraq, for example, have neither the ability nor the courage to do so. Even the strongest militia in the region , Hezbollah will not do that unless Iran pressures it.
At first glance, it seems that the tour in Tehran is in a bind. If it reacts, it destroys the chances that the US will re-enter the nuclear deal and sanctions will be lifted, and ultimately it risks a war. If Tehran does not react, it will be interpreted as a weakness. However, Iran is known to respond carefully and indirectly to such situations.