Al-Jazeera / December 9, 2020
No, it is not its nuclear arsenal.
There is much reason to believe, but obviously no hard evidence to prove, that Israel is behind the most recent assassination of yet another high-ranking Iranian scientist.
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was seen by United States and Israeli intelligence services as the mastermind of a covert Iranian programme to develop nuclear weapons capability, was evidently killed on November 27 in an ambush on a highway near Tehran “with remotely controlled smart devices”.
It is, of course, impossible to know what exactly happened on that highway. The Israelis have reasons to exaggerate their capabilities in conducting deadly covert operations in Iranian territory. Iranians, meanwhile, have reasons to conceal the manner in which their prominent official was killed, and engage in their own reciprocal disinformation campaign.
What we are left with is the evident fact that Israelis, perhaps in cahoots with the Americans, the Saudis or even the Emiratis, were behind yet another targeted assassination of a prominent Iranian official.
But how does Israel do it? How does this puny little settler colony get away with murder, repeatedly?
Projecting more power than they actually possess
Although Israel wants to project an image of an omnipotent and omniscient force that can kill and destroy with the flick of a finger, the fact is that it is all a bogus, cliché, and gaudy posture. There is not much mystery surrounding this cowardly operation: we have the Israeli-US intelligence, Saudi-Emirati finances, and the sleeper cells of the treacherous Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) – the exiled Iranian terrorist outfit – operatives inside Iran as the most likely combination of factors that allowed Israel to commit this murder.
Targeted assassination is a common feature of Israeli behaviour. The murder of prominent Palestinian revolutionary writer Ghassan Kanafani in Beirut on July 8, 1972, together with his 17-year-old niece, Lamees Najim, is perhaps the most infamous and iconic of such assassinations.
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was not the first and likely will not be the last Iranian scientist presumed murdered by the Israelis. At least half a dozen Iranian scientists have been murdered over the last decade, and Israel is believed to have been chiefly responsible for half of these murders.
To be sure, Israel is neither the first nor the only state that has eliminated its perceived enemies with assassinations outside its borders. Earlier this year, Donald Trump ordered the US military to murder Qassem Soleimani, a high-ranking Iranian military official, in Iraq. Just two years ago, Saudi Arabia chopped to pieces Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident journalist, in Turkey.
The Iranians themselves have a long history of brutally murdering their perceived enemies around the world. They, for example, stabbed prominent opposition figure Shapour Bakhtiar to death in France in 1991. They do not hesitate to murder dissidents inside Iran either, as in the notorious case of the so-called “chain murders” of the 1980s and 1990s.
So no state can assume a holier than thou posture here. They are all guilty as sin. It is a dog eat dog world out there among these ruling regimes of terror and murder, each one worse than the other.
But still, the bald-faced incursion of a colonial settlement into a sovereign nation to murder one of their high-ranking scientists requires some examination.
What is Israel’s secret weapon?
The specific question I wish to raise here is how could Israel murder Fakhrizadeh, then cowardly assume a stance of “neither denying nor confirming”, and get away with it?
The issue at hand here is not the Israeli behaviour, which is systematically criminal. All you have to do is read Ronen Bergman’s Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations (2018) to learn chapter and verse the sustained and systematic history of the settler colony being founded and kept in place with such targeted assassinations.
There is a link, I wish to propose, between the fact that Israelis can just move into Iran and murder anyone they want and the cowardly sellouts like the rulers of the UAE, Bahrain or Sudan “normalising” the historic theft of Palestine and entering into diplomatic relations with the settler colony.
That link spells out the scandalous incompetence of ruling states on all sides of the Gulf and beyond having no trust in their own people and degenerating the state apparatus into the instrument of tyranny against their own populations instead of learning how to protect their national sovereignty. On this score, there is no difference between the rulers of the UAE and Iran: they are both pathetically weak towards American-Israeli militarism because they are pathetically tyrannical towards their own citizens.
Let us talk specifically about Iran. The ruling state dedicates an overwhelming segment of its security and military apparatus to keeping Iranians themselves in line. It is so conscious of its own illegitimacy that its single most important function is to grab power, control the economy, and systemically subjugate Iranians to oppressive surveillance.
The ruling military, intelligence and security apparatus of the Islamic republic does not want to accept how utterly ridiculous it looks that Israel can infiltrate their country and point-blank murder one top scientist after another, while they are busy brutalising a teenage child into wearing her scarf one way and not the other. The sheer stupidity of this state just boggles the mind.
Stateless nations, illegitimate states
Israel is a garrison state – a state without a nation ruling over the Palestinians, a nation without a state. And so is precisely every single other state around it, chief among them Iran that has long since lost the trust and support of the nation over which it rules with wanton cruelty.
Imagine for a minute if people in Iran or anywhere else in the Muslim world were the masters of their own destiny. Imagine if the dungeons of the Islamic republic were not filled with political prisoners and human rights activists. Imagine if the ruling state did not waste much of its resources and abilities to surveil the Iranians and punish them for the slightest sign of life and liberty.
That is the secret weapon Israel has against Iran and all the other corrupt regimes in the region. That these illegitimate rulers do not see the strength of their countries is in their own population; that freedom, liberty, the ability to stand up proudly and claim national sovereignty is the true source of power for any country. Instead these pathetic incompetent fools who cannot even protect their most precious assets are trying in vain to keep an entire nation prisoner of their outdated, corrupt and moronic politics.
Israel is a military base created by a gang of European adventurists. They would not even dare to imagine infiltrating Iran, or Turkey, or Egypt, or any other real country, and murdering one of their citizens if they realised they had the will of an entire nation confronting them. They know the entire apparatus of the Islamic republic from top to bottom is irredeemably foreign to the defiant will of the Iranian people, that after 40 years they have miserably failed to become integral to the will of their nation, that they and their entire propaganda machinery has become parasitic to the organic integrity of an ancient but young, proud and competent nation, over which the ruling clergy has much power but little authority.
Nations against states
What can Iran do in retaliation for their top scientists being murdered by Israel? Nothing. Can they reciprocate and go and kill an Israeli nuclear scientist? Of course not, they do not have the wherewithal to do anything remotely similar to that. So they huff and they puff and ultimately shoot a few useless missiles in one direction or another and continue abusing their own population and supporting Hamas, Hezbollah or the murderous al-Assad regime for one useless act of “resistance” or another.
But at the same time, the habitual chicaneries of Israel will ultimately have to face not these feeble and pathetic states but the root of the power of resistance to its murderous deeds which is the will of the Palestinians and the Iranians alike.
What is lost to Israel and its sustained course of criminal activities is how utterly futile they are. They mobilise all their evil means and assassinate a few Iranian nuclear scientists – so what? Iran has literally thousands upon thousands of such unclear scientists, more than half of them women physicists from top Iranian universities. What is Israel going to do? Kill them all? Drop a couple of their pathetic and useless atom bombs on Iran as its American godfather Sheldon Adelson wants to do?
Is it possible to prevent Iranians from achieving nuclear knowledge or technology for peaceful or even non-peaceful purposes if that is what Iranians decide to do? Do they think a puny little settler colony can stop an entire nation that has given Maryam Mirzakhani to the world? Where do they think the late genius mathematician came from? Tel Aviv University? Israelis will fail miserably in this as they fail in everything else they touch – from stealing Palestine, to convincing anyone with an iota of decency and empathy to accept this blatant theft.
Both the ruling Islamic republic and the settler colony of Israel will ultimately fail to silencing the will of Palestinian and Iranian peoples. The repressed but defiant will of nations, Palestinians under the boots of Israeli soldiers and Iranians under the cruelties of their ruling regimes, will prevail.
Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University