Was the Targeted Assassination of Iran’s Top Nuclear Scientist Really ‘Reckless’ and a ‘Criminal Act’?

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Former CIA director John Brennan’s recent remarks about Israel and of Jews have been criticized by Ira Stoll here.

John Brennan has for a long time taken Israel – and Israeli Jews – to task. He was furious, for example, with Israel for its assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the “mastermind” of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, on November 27, 2020. Sensible people know that Fakhrizadeh’s killing made the world a safer place, and that we owe a debt of gratitude to the Israelis for this act of derring-do, designed to further slow Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons, But John Brennan called it “highly reckless.”

Was the targeted assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist any more “reckless” than the American killing of the head of Iran’s Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, at the beginning of 2020? Or was this killing any more “reckless” than the killing of Osama bin Laden by Seal Team Six, in 2011, when Brennan was high up in the CIA (he became the Director in 2013)? The Israelis, of course, calculated the likelihood of Iranian retaliation, factoring in Tehran’s desire to avoid responding violently until after Trump left office. And the Israelis believed that whatever response came from Iran, it would be very modest. Which is exactly what happened – the Iranians have since that assassination shot a few missiles at one or two Israeli cargo ships; that has been the extent of their promised “terrible vengeance.” Was the assassination “highly reckless,” as John Brennan wanted everyone to believe, or wasn’t it, rather, carefully considered, and more accurately ought to be described as “bold,” “intrepid,” “meticulously planned”?

When Qassem Soleimani was killed, the Americans had no idea what Iran would do; in the end, it sent missiles into two airbases in Iraq that were used by American troops, wounding 100 soldiers; there were concessions, but no deaths. Nor did the Americans have any idea how Al Qaeda might respond to the killing of Bin Laden in Abbottabad. Israel’s killing of Fakhrizadeh was less “reckless” — in terms of gauging likely consequences — than the American killings of Soleimani and bin Laden. How would John Brennan characterize the killings of Soleimani and bin Laden? “Highly reckless”? “Reckless”? Or would he not insist, rather, that both killings were “necessary” and “long overdue”?

Israel’s assassination of Fakhrizadeh was, according to Brennan, not only “reckless”:

“This was a criminal act & highly reckless. It risks lethal retaliation & a new round of regional conflict,” Brennan said in a series of tweets.

Fakhrizadeh’s assassination was no more a “criminal act” than the killings, by American forces, of Soleimani and bin Laden, both of which “risked lethal retaliation and a new round of regional conflict.” Fakhrizadeh was a Major General in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which the American government has designated to be a terrorist group. As the “mastermind” of the nuclear program, he was possibly the most dangerous man in Iran. He didn’t wear a uniform, but he was no civilian. By killing him, and thus delaying still further Iran’s nuclear program, which is a threat to Israel, to the Gulf Arabs, and to America itself, Brennan would have you believe that Israel committed a “criminal act.”

And then he deepened his denunciation of Israel. Here’s what John Brennan had to say:

“I do not know whether a foreign government authorized or carried out the murder of Fakhrizadeh,” he said. “Such an act of state-sponsored terrorism would be a flagrant violation of international law & encourage more governments to carry out lethal attacks against foreign officials.”

So first this assassination was, in Brennan’s view, “highly reckless.” Then the killing became a “criminal act.” Then it became an act of “state-sponsored terrorism.” Then it became a “flagrant violation of international law.” But how was the assassination of Fakhrizadeh different from the killings of bin Laden and Soleimani, both of which Brennan clearly approved; he was, after all, Deputy Director of the CIA when bin Laden was killed in 2011? Of course, Brennan knew perfectly well that Israel, a country for which he has always exhibited a palpable want of sympathy, had taken out Fakhrizadeh. He pretends “not to know” who was responsible so that his extraordinary condemnation of what he called this “act of state-sponsored terrorism,” this “criminal act,” this “flagrant violation of international law,” would not be attributed to his anti-Israel bias.

Brennan does not like Israel, but he has a definite soft spot for Islam. He has repeatedly defined “Jihad” as a non-violent struggle by Muslims to “purify themselves” or to attain a “moral goal.” In 2009, Brennan said “Nor does President Obama see this challenge as a fight against ‘Jihadists.” Describing terrorists in this way – using a legitimate term, ‘Jihad,’ meaning to purify oneself or to wage a holy struggle for a moral goal – risks giving these murderers the religious legitimacy they desperately seek but in no way deserve.” No, Mr. Brennan, those Jihadists do not “desperately seek” religiously legitimacy; they know perfectly well that they are good Muslims, dutifully putting into practice the commands of the Quran.

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