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November 30, 2021 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1609

Former Head Of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Abbasi-Davani, Hints That Iranian Nuclear Chief Mohsen Fakhrizadeh Was Working On Nuclear Weapons And That Is Why He Was Assassinated; IRGC-Affiliated Commentator Confirms That Abbasi-Davani Was Talking About Nuclear Weapons; Abbasi-Davani Says Enemy Sabotage, Assassinations Should Be Stopped By Iran's 'Cross[ing] Several Scientific Borders As Soon As Possible To Show Our Capability And Defend Our People'

November 30, 2021 | By A. Savyon*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1609

The following report is a complimentary offering from the MEMRI Iran Threat Monitor Project (ITMP). For more information, write to [email protected] with "ITMP Subscription" in the subject line.

Introduction

On the first anniversary of the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the father of Iran's nuclear program, on November 27, 2021 former Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) head (2011-2013) and Majlis member Prof. Fereydoon Abbasi-Davani gave an interview to the Iran daily newspaper, the most widely read daily in the country. Abbasi-Davani, who heads the physics faculty at the Imam Hossein University of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was himself the target of an assassination attempt, in November 2010, in which he was wounded. Both he and Fakhrizadeh had been sanctioned by the UN Security Council for their role in research on developing nuclear weapons and nuclear-warhead ballistic missiles.

In the interview, Abbasi-Davani spoke about his personal and professional relationship with Fakhrizadeh, and discussed at length the development of Iran's nuclear program under Fakhrizadeh and dealing with the attempts to freeze the program from within Iran on the part of elements in the Iranian leadership who opposed it (i.e. former president and Iranian Expediency Council head Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani) and external attempts to stop it through assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists.

Abbasi-Davani explained the involvement of Iranian military and security bodies, such as the IRGC and the Defense Ministry, in the nuclear program which is widely presented by the regime as a civilian program with the claim that military elements should contribute to rebuilding the country via nuclear research.

He also discussed Iran's need to develop ballistic missiles, laser technology, and electronics, which he said are derived from "security innovation," under which the Iranian nuclear program was developed, with Fakhrizadeh as head of the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research (SPND) of the Iranian Defense Ministry.

He explained that during the 1990s, Fakhrizadeh had focused on building Iran's nuclear infrastructure through the country's academic systems and security institutions, on creating and cultivating scientific cadres, and on building laboratories, and that before he was assassinated he was working on establishing a biological organization.

Abbasi-Davani discussed the government's restriction of scientists such as himself and Fakhrizadeh under Iranian president Hassan Rohani, from 2013 onward, when the nuclear talks between the U.S. and Iran became public. During that time, in 2013, he was replaced as head of the AEOI by Akbar Salehi, who was part of the negotiating team. He implied criticism of his replacement, under whose leadership AEOI activity was suspended and its cooperation with other nuclear scientists in Iranian universities was halted. This, he said, was because of the positions of the Iranian officials from the pragmatic stream, such as Rafsanjani, who called for taking a peaceful direction with the West and stated that the missile era was over.[1]

He clarified that the attempt in Iran to halt the development of the nuclear program by officials from the pragmatic stream had failed, thanks to the fact that "at the head of the state stood intelligent people who helped [continue and] strengthen this system." This reference to "intelligent people who helped continue to strengthen the system" is apparently to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and to IRGC officials who opposed Rafsanjani's approach. It will be recalled that Rafsanjani died in 2017 under suspicious circumstances, with IRCG guards present as he took his morning swim, and that his children claimed that he was assassinated by the regime. MEMRI published numerous reports at the time[2] on the internal Rafsanjani-Khamenei conflict and warned Rafsanjani's life was in danger.

At the end of the interview, Abbasi-Davani said that Iran's enemies were aware of its might and of the development of its nuclear program, and preferred to strike at and assassinate people instead of nuclear facilities with the aim of weakening and frightening the regime. These enemy efforts, he said, would not stop "unless we endanger them – that is, we must cross several scientific borders as soon as possible to show our capability and to defend our people..." (see the full translation of Abbasi's interview with Iran in Appendix I – to be published soon).  

In his statements to the Iran daily, Abbasi-Davani hinted that Fakhrizadeh had advanced a military nuclear program for developing nuclear weapons and that this was the reason for his assassination. He said: "The name of the organization [directed] until recently by Mr. Fakhrizadeh is the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research [SPND]. If someone wants to work on security innovation, there is a need for a broad range of science and technology. Nuclear, missile, electronics, and so on are automatically derived from [security innovation.]"

"Ultimately, our refraining from nuclear weapons is clear, based on the explicit fatwa of the Supreme Leader [Ali Khamenei] completely banning nuclear weapons. But Fakhrizadeh created this system, and his interest was not only the defense of our country, because our country is the backbone of the resistance front – and when we get into these matters the Zionists become sensitive. It was not only Mr. Fakhrizadeh. Other directors in our group [share] such traits. The enemy identified traits of Mr. Fakrizadeh's [for which] he had to be physically eliminated. They are also looking for other [scientists], and any time they can, they assassinate our people." 

Even though Abbasi-Davani's statements were not explicit, they sparked discussion about what he had meant. A November 28, 2021 post on the IRGC-affiliated Telegram channel T.me/T_neutrino_plus, which identifies itself as "Science & Defense; Institute of Thermal Physics," stated that the term "system" used by Abbasi referred to "nuclear weapons," as is "pretty evident from his statements."

 
T.me/T_neutrino_plus; the Telegram post, T.me/T_neutrino_plus/734, November 28, 2021.

The following is a translation of the Telegram post on T.me/T_neutrino_plus: "Despite the considerable censorship of the prominent figure Dr. Fakhrizadeh, Dr. Abbasi-Davani stated here clearly, as an old and loyal friend [of his], that the martyr [Fakhrizadeh] worked on nuclear weapons. The [term] 'system' here is in effect the construction of the nuclear weapon itself, which is pretty evident from his statements, in contrast to their interpretations including [nuclear weapons] infrastructure.

"It should be concluded that the [Iranian] regime has gone so far as to build a nuclear weapon and did not complete it, and unfortunately has not yet built a bomb. In my view, as noted in posts from previous months, the system is at most only at the 'hot alert' or 'nuclear threshold.' It would appear that if [Iran's] nuclear program is not underway secretly somewhere, [then] the nuclear weapons system, unfortunately, has not [yet] been built, and this is in fact an inexcusable strategic mistake in light of the great pressures on the country in the past 30 years in the name of nuclearizing the country! I hope that I'm wrong."[3]

Assessment

Despite his caution in his discussion of the Iranian nuclear program, Abbasi-Davani himself gave further validity to the claim that this is indeed the development of an Iranian regime military nuclear program. While he reiterated the official warnings of Iranian regime spokesmen regarding Khamenei's nuclear fatwa (which does not exist – see Appendix II), at the same time he expressed reservations about the validity of the fatwa by stating, "But Fakhrizadeh created this system, and his interest was not only the defense of our country, because our country is the backbone of the resistance front."

With this, he justified the activity of Fakhrizadeh, which was in defiance of the fatwa with the claim that Iran has an obligation to defend the entire resistance axis – from Yemen in the south through Iraq in the center to Syria and to the Palestinian resistance on the Mediterranean coast in the west, and eastwards to Afghanistan – of which Iran is the backbone.

Further strengthening the claim that Iran's nuclear program is military can be found in Abbasi-Davani's statements about the need to "endanger" Iran's enemies by "cross[ing] several scientific borders as soon as possible to show our capability" in order to stop them from disrupting Iran's nuclear program using sabotage and assassination.

In this context, we should note the warning by Mehdi Taeb, head of the Ammar Headquarters think tank that advises Khamenei and a close Khamenei associate,[4] who is also the brother of IRGC intelligence organization head Hossein Taeb. Before the negotiations in Vienna began on November 29, 2021, Mehdi Taeb called on the Iranian negotiators to stress that if Iran was not given the rights it deserved, it would take them by force. He said in a November 14, 2021 interview with the ISNA news agency: "Our negotiators must now hold the line of strength – that is, they should clarify in the negotiations to the enemy that if they don't verbally affirm our right, according to justice, we will take [our rights] from them by force... [Our] negotiators must warn the sides that if they do not give us our rights in the negotiations we have the strength to take our rights by force, and in such a case it will cost them dearly."[5]  

It is possible that Abbasi-Davani's interview in Iran, the country's most widely read  daily, which was published on the first anniversary of Fakhrizadeh's assassination and two days before the beginning of the nuclear talks in Vienna, was aimed at serving Iran's position in the negotiations with the West by publicly presenting Iran's determination to continue its efforts to become a state capable of providing nuclear defense to the entire resistance axis, and to point out that U.S. efforts to dissuade Iran from this path would come to naught.[6]

 

*A. Savyon is director of the MEMRI Iran Media Project.

 

[1] Rafsanjani had tweeted "The world of tomorrow is a world of talks, not of missiles." See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6641, Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei, Ideological Circles Attack Rafsanjani For Calling For Investing In Economy Instead Of Military - Like Germany And Japan Post-WWII, October 11, 2016.

[3] T.me/T_neutrino_plus/734, November 28, 2021.

[4] The Ammar Headquarters, named for Amar ibn Yasir, one of the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad and a supporter of the first Shi'ite imam Ali, was killed at the Battle of Siffin in 657. For the circumstances of the establishment of the Ammar Headquarters, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 3850, In Iran, Protest Movement, Regime Prepare for February 14 Demonstrations, February 12, 2011.

[5] ISNA (Iran), November 14, 2021.

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