Iran blames Israel for Fakhrizadeh's death. So now what?

How will the Islamic Republic respond to the assassination of their top nuclear scientist?

This past year hasn’t been great for Iran.

Just one day into 2020, Iran’s top general, Qasem Soleimani, and Iraqi Shi’ite militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis were killed in a drone strike outside Baghdad’s airport. With just a month left, Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was assassinated east of Tehran.

Following Soleimani’s death, which the United States took responsibility for, the Middle East braced itself for Iran’s response.

It came a week later when ballistic missiles targeted the Ain al-Asad airbase in western Iraq and an airbase in Erbil.

US officials said soldiers had received adequate warning and had taken shelter. But more than 100 American troops were wounded in the attack, including many with traumatic brain injuries.

And now, once again, the entire region is bracing itself for what Iran will do in response to the assassination of Fakhrizadeh, who drove Iran’s nuclear program. Project Amad is tasked with developing nuclear warheads for the ballistic missiles that would carry them.

Iran has accused Israel of being behind Fakhrizadeh’s death – and for good reason.

Several Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated over the years in attacks believed to have been carried out by Israel. Though Iran never retaliated for those killings, Fakhrizadeh was by far the most important nuclear scientist to be assassinated to date.

In one response to the killing, Iran’s parliament on Sunday approved a vote to raise the rate of uranium enrichment to 20% and gradually withdraw from the nuclear agreement.

But with its known capabilities to carry out attacks across the globe, Iran might be planning something more.

While they are big fans of being patient, the tone out of Iran has led Jerusalem to prepare for retaliation for whenever and however it comes.

They can choose to target diplomats and other westerners in the Middle East or attack Israeli embassies and Jewish targets across the world, using their international terrorist infrastructure that has been in place for decades. As such, Israeli embassies have gone on high alert.

Though the IDF is said to have not raised its alert, Israel’s defense establishment is not going to let itself sleep at the wheel.

Israel’s military has already been on high alert along its northern border with Lebanon, bracing for a possible attack by Hezbollah after an alleged Israeli airstrike in Syria on July 20 killed one of its members. Several improvised explosive devices have been discovered along the border with Syria, leading Israel to conduct airstrikes against Iranian and Hezbollah targets in the country.

But Iran knows any attack on Israel’s northern border, be it by proxies in Lebanon or Syria, will result in massive airstrikes that would likely cause Iran and its proxies more damage than they are willing to incur.

Iran understands that Israel has superior intelligence, which would make it consider this option twice before giving the green light. After all, would a response to Fakhrizadeh’s assassination be worth losing the terrorist infrastructure it has built up in recent years?

Tehran could also use its arsenal of ballistic missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles to carry out an attack against Israeli targets in the Red Sea by the Houthis, their proxies in Yemen.

The Houthis have threatened Israel more than once. While the distance between the two countries is great, the Iranian-backed group could carry out an attack involving cruise missiles and attack drones, similar to the one last September on Saudi Arabia’s Aramco petroleum facility.

Or the Islamic Republic might choose to carry out a cyberattack against Israel’s water infrastructure as it did in April and July.

Beyond these scenarios, Tehran might also choose to do nothing for the time being to maintain some level of plausible deniability for anything it wants to do in the future.

Not only is Iran patient, it is calculating and sophisticated. Iranians know they have to be smart about any retaliatory attack, especially over the next 52 days before US President Donald Trump leaves office and is replaced by Joe Biden.

Any retaliatory attack by Tehran, especially if it causes casualties, might be the catalyst for Trump to strike Iran’s nuclear sites, destroying their nuclear program and their greater strategic plans.

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