Tehran, Iran (AP) – A top Iranian security official on Monday accused Israel of using “electronic devices” to kill a scientist who founded the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program in the 2000s.
Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the country’s highest National Security Council, made the remarks at the funeral of Mohsin Fakhrizade, where Iran’s defense minister separately vowed to continue the man’s work “with greater speed and more power”.
Israel has long suspected the killing of Iranian nuclear scientists over the past decade, repeatedly refusing to comment on the attack.
Fakhrizadeh led Iran’s so-called AMAD program, which Israel and the West have alleged was a military operation given the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon. The International Atomic Energy Agency says the “structured program” ended in 2003. US intelligence agencies agreed with that assessment in a 2007 report.
Israel says Iran still has ambitions to develop nuclear weapons, pointing to research into Tehran’s ballistic missile program and other technologies. Iran has long kept its nuclear program peaceful.
Shamkhani’s comment changed the story of Fakhrizadeh’s assassination on Friday. Authorities initially said that a truck exploded and then gunmen opened fire on the scientist, killing him. State TV also interviewed a man on the night of the attack, who told the gunmen about the open fire.
State TV’s English-language Press TV on Wednesday reported a weapon recovered from the scene of the attack, bore “the logos and peculiarities of the Israeli military industry”. State TV’s Arabic-language channel Al-Alam claimed that the weapons used were “satellite-controlled”, a claim claimed by the paramilitary Fars news agency on Sunday.
None of the outlets immediately offered evidence supporting their claims.
“Unfortunately, the operation was a very complex operation and was carried out using electronic devices,” Shamkhani told state TV. “No person was present on the site.”
Satellite control of weapons is nothing new. For example, armed, long-range drones rely on satellite connections handled by their remote pilots. Remote-controlled gun turrets are also present, but their operator is usually shown to be connected by a hard line, which cuts down on delays in orders to be reeled.
While technically feasible, it was not immediately clear whether such a system had been used before, said Jeremy Binnie, Mid-East editor of Jerry’s Defense Week.
“Can you set a weapon with a camera that has a feed that uses an open satellite communication line for the controller?” Binny said. “I can’t see why that’s not possible.”
It also raised the question if the truck exploded during the attack to try and destroy the satellite-controlled machine gun hidden within it. Iranian authorities did not immediately accept. One would also need someone on the ground to install the weapon.
Shamkhani also went on to detail the Iranian exiled group Mujahideen-e-Khalq “without this role”. MEK did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Monday’s service to Fakhrzadeh took place in Tehran on an outskirts of Iran’s Ministry of Defense, with Revolutionary Guard Chief General Hossein Salami, the Guard’s Quad Force leader General. Ismail Ghani, civil nuclear program chief Ali Akbar Sahi and intelligence minister Mamoud Alavi. . They used to sit apart from each other and wore masks due to the coronovirus epidemic as the customs read excerpts from the Koran and religious texts.
Defense Minister General Amir Hatami gave a speech after kissing Fakhrizadeh’s casket and putting his forehead against it. He said Fakhrizadeh’s assassination would make Iranians “more united, more determined”.
“For the continuation of our path, we will continue with more speed and more power,” Hatami said in live comments by state television.
Hatami also criticized the countries that did not condemn Fakhrizadeh’s murder, warning: “It will happen to you someday.” Overnight, the United Arab Emirates, which just reached a normalization deal with Israel, issued a statement saying “heinous murder”. Home to the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, it warned “further fuel conflicts may occur in the region.”
Last year, the UAE found itself amid an escalating chain of events between Iran and the US, although Iran’s nuclear program has long been suspected, with Emirates saying it wants to end the crisis. The UAE had just launched passenger air service to Israel and Israelis are expected to leave the country over Hanukkah in the coming days.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Usheep urged diplomats around the missions and Jewish community centers to urge diplomats to maintain “the highest level of awareness of irregularity and any irregular activity”. A cable has been sent to the delegations.
Hebrew-language media in Israel reported that following Fakhrizadeh’s assassination, the Foreign Ministry ordered protection abroad on some Israeli diplomatic missions. The ministry declined to comment on diplomatic security matters.
Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writer Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed to this report.