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Photo: Fars News Agency via AP

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran’s military nuclear program, is a new height in the maximum pressure campaign led by the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government against Iran.

Why it matters: It exceeds the capture of the Iranian nuclear archives by the Mossad, and the sabotage in the advanced centrifuge facility in Natanz.

  • Israel didn’t take responsibility for the assassination, but the New York Times reported it was Israeli agents who killed Fakhrizade, citing intelligence officials.
  • Iran blamed Israel for the assassination and threatened revenge. But unlike the almost immediate retaliation against U.S. bases in Iraq for the U.S. killing of Quds force commander Qassin Soleimani, this time the Iranians will need more time to prepare their response.

The big picture: The physicist Fakhrizade was to the Iranian nuclear program what
Soleimani was to Iran’s covert activity in the region. Taking him out could
have a similar effect.

  • Iranian army commander Mohammed Bagheri admitted the assassination was a huge blow to the Iranian defense establishment.
  • Israeli officials briefed several media outlets in Israel that without Fakhrizade it will be hard for Iran to continue its nuclear program.

The other side: The Iranian nuclear program has made huge progress and is not dependent on one person.

  • Fakhrizadeh had special organizational and management skills and was very dominant inside the Iranian defense establishment, but the Iranian nuclear program will continue after his death.

Between the lines: The killing of Fakhrizadeh comes as part of what seems as an effort by the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government to use the time left until President-elect Joe Biden assumes office for more pressure on Iran.

  • The Trump administration hasn’t concealed its ambition to make it harder for Biden to renew talks with Iran and rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal. Sanctions, covert operations and threats for military strikes are part of this effort.
  • The trilateral meeting between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in Saudi Arabia on Sunday was also part of the effort to raise the pressure on Iran and send a message to the Biden administration.

What’s next: The tension with Iran, which is high in normal days, is expected to rise ahead of January 20th. After the killing of Fakhrizadeh and possibly more actions against Iran by the U.S. and Israel, the Biden administration is expected to find a much more complicated reality that might make it harder to reengage with Tehran.

Go deeper

Jan 28, 2021 - World

Israel's chief epidemiologist creates diplomatic incident with UAE

Israeli travelers arrive in Dubai. Photo: Karim Sahib/AFP via Getty Images

A remark by Israel’s chief epidemiologist suggesting the opening of direct flights from Dubai to Tel Aviv had led to COVID-19 deaths in Israel resulted in diplomatic protests from the UAE, Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: Direct flights were one of the main fruits of the Israel-UAE peace treaty, and around 130,000 Israeli tourists have taken advantage by flying to Dubai since December.

11 mins ago - Sports

Gonzaga University revokes NBA great John Stockton's tickets over mask stance

Former Utah Jazz player John Stockton during a 2017 press conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo: Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Gonzaga University suspend the season tickets of notable alumni John Stockton after the NBA Hall of Famer failed to comply with the school's basketball games mask mandate, the Spokesman-Review first reported.

Driving the news: "Basically, it came down to, they were asking me to wear a mask to the games and being a public figure, someone a little bit more visible, I stuck out in the crowd a little bit," the former Utah Jazz point guard told the outlet in an interview Saturday.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

State Department orders evacuation of U.S. diplomats' families from Ukraine

From left, Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Chargés d'Affaires in Ukraine Kristina Kvien during a meeting with Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal in Kyiv. Photo: Yevhen Liubimov/ Ukrinform/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The State Department will begin evacuating families and non-essential staff from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv this week, according to a travel advisory published Sunday evening.

Why it matters: The move underscores U.S. fears that a Russian invasion could destabilize Ukraine and threaten embassy's ability to assist Americans.