“Iran, as stated before as our definite policy, will independently give a matching response to those who ordered and committed this with maximum pain for those who did this,” said Saeed Khatibzadeh, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, of the assassination Friday of Iran’s top nuclear scientist.
Iran’s government blames Israel for killing Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the founder of Iran’s nuclear program who the Israeli government had publicly singled out in 2018 while charging Iran was developing a secret nuclear program.
In response to the assassination, Iran’s parliament approved a bill that would boot international weapons inspectors and escalate uranium production. Iran’s Supreme National Security Council also would need to approve the measures before the government could enact them.
Iran faces growing pressure from the outgoing Trump administration, too. Officials said they will advance their maximum pressure operation against Iran until the handoff to the Biden team.
Part of the campaign against Iran is also to strengthen the relationships between American allies.
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, and other current and former US officials are traveling this week to Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Administration officials said their goal is to try to resolve a rift that intensified in 2017 and led the Saudis and three of its allies – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt – to cut off diplomatic and economic relations with Qatar.
All three countries are members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and US officials have been trying for years to resolve the infighting.
“The rift serves no one except with the possible exception of Iran,” said David Schenker, the State Department’s Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, in October. Resolving the diplomatic standoff has been “a priority issue for the secretary and for the administration for quite a while, and it will continue to be. The dispute has gone on far too long,” he said.
The US has its largest military presence in the region in Qatar at Al Udeid Air Base. Saudi Arabia is a key American ally in countering Iran. This trip also gives administration officials an opportunity to discuss strategy with the Saudis after Fakhrizadeh’s assassination.
The Trump administration is continuing its push for Arab governments to recognize Israel, potentially trying to convince Saudi Arabia and Qatar on this trip to join the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain this year in establishing official diplomatic ties with the Israelis.
“Despite the White House explanation that settling the GCC dispute is the trip’s objective, Kushner’s traveling party includes Middle East peace negotiator Avi Berkowitz and former Iran policy advisor Brian Hook. Their inclusion, and the absence of any identified Gulf policy expert, suggests that Israel normalization and Iran will be on the agenda for talks in Riyadh and Doha,” said Gerald M. Feierstein, the former US ambassador to Yemen and a senior vice president at the Middle East Institute.