Tehran newspaper: Strike Haifa if Israel killed Iranian scientist

‘Kayhan’ newspaper is edited by Hossein Shariatmadari, one of Ali Khamenei’s advisers

In this picture released by the Iranian Defense Ministry and taken on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020, people pray over the flag draped coffin of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an Iranian scientist linked to the country's disbanded military nuclear program, who was killed on Friday, during a funeral ceremony at the Imam Reza holy shrine in the northeastern city of Mashhad, Iran. An opinion piece published by a hard-line Iranian newspaper has suggested that Iran must attack the Israeli port city of Haifa if Israel carried out the killing of a scientist. (Iranian Defense Ministry via AP)
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

An opinion piece in a hardline Iranian newspaper on Sunday suggested that Iran should attack the Israeli port city of Haifa if Israel killed a scientist linked to Tehran's disbanded military nuclear programme.

The Kayhan newspaper has long argued for aggressive retaliation for operations against Iran, but Sunday's opinion piece went further and suggested any assault be carried out in a way that destroys facilities and "also causes heavy human casualties".

Iran over the past decade has accused Israel of killing its nuclear scientists, but Israel has not commented on the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh on Friday.

Iranian officials blamed Israel for the latest attack, raising the spectre of renewed tensions that could engulf the region, including US troops stationed in the Arabian Gulf and beyond.

Kayhan published the piece by Iranian analyst Sadollah Zarei, who said that Iran's reactions to suspected Israeli air strikes that killed Revolutionary Guard forces in Syria did not go far enough to deter Israel.

Striking Haifa and killing a large number of people “will definitely lead to deterrence, because the United States and the Israeli regime and its agents are by no means ready to take part in a war and a military confrontation”, Mr Zarei wrote.

He said an assault on Haifa needed to be greater than Iran’s ballistic missile attack against US troops in Iraq after the US drone strike that killed a senior Iranian general in Iraq in January.

Haifa, on the Mediterranean Sea, has been threatened in the past by Iran and its proxy, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

In February 2016, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah suggested striking Haifa’s stores of ammonium nitrate, a highly volatile fertiliser that fuelled the deadly Beirut port explosion in August that killed at least 192 people and wounded 6,500 others.

Nasrallah said the ability to strike the ammonium nitrate facility was like Hezbollah owning a nuclear bomb.

The statement led Israeli officials to hastily look at moving the ammonium nitrate out of striking distance.

While Kayhan is a small-circulation newspaper in Iran, its editor-in-chief, Shariatmadari, was appointed by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and has been described as an adviser to him in the past.

Threats in parliament

The Iranian parliament on Sunday held a closed-door hearing about the killing of Fakhrizadeh. Afterwards, Speaker Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf said Iran’s enemies must be made to regret killing him.

"The criminal enemy does not regret it except with a strong reaction," he said on Iranian state radio.

State television broadcast images of Fakhrizadeh’s casket as it was flown to Mashhad, a city in eastern Iran’ and home to the shrine of Imam Reza.

Analysts compared Fakhrizadeh to J Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist who led the US Manhattan Project in the Second World War that developed the atomic bomb.

Fakhrizadeh headed Iran’s so-called Amad programme that Israel and the West alleged was a military operation looking at the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said that “structured programme” ended in 2003. Iran has long maintained its nuclear programme is peaceful.

The killing of Fakhrizadeh  is likely to complicate the plans of Joe Biden, US president-elect, who has said his administration will consider re-entering Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. It also raises the risk of an open conflict in the remaining weeks in office for President Donald Trump, who unilaterally withdrew the US from the atomic accord in 2018, beginning a series of escalating incidents between Tehran and Washington.