According to a detailed report by the New York Times, the top Iranian nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who officials believe was working to build Iran a nuclear weapon, was killed in a remote-controlled ambush by Israeli Mossad agents in November 2020. The report includes interviews with Israeli, American, and Iranian sources


Fakhrizadeh and His Importance for Iran’s Nuclear Program

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was born in the Iranian city of Qom in 1958 and joined the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) after the Iranian revolution in 1979.

Fakhrizadeh received his Bachelor of Science in nuclear physics from Shahid Beheshti University in 1987. He later earned a master’s degree at the Isfahan University of Technology and a Ph.D. in nuclear radiation and cosmic rays.

Although Fakhrizadeh was a member of the Imam Hossein University (IHU) faculty beginning in 1991, the CIA, in an assessment conducted in 2007, believed that this was essentially a “cover position” to hide his true work. 

The UN asked to interview Fakhrizadeh in 2007 as part of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) probe into Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, but the Iranians refused to make him available. He was considered a key figure in Tehran’s nuclear weapons program. Tehran then provided some information regarding Fakhrizadeh’s work which the IAEA said is “not inconsistent with its findings.”

His work on getting Iran a nuclear warhead got him on the radar of both the CIA and the Mossad. As early as 2004, the Israeli agency began an active operation to stop Tehran from realizing that goal. Mossad conducted a series of sabotages and cyber attacks on the Iranians’ nuclear enrichment facilities. It also conducted targeted assassinations of Iran’s nuclear scientists. In total, using a variety of methods, Mossad killed the IRGC general in charge of the missile development program and 16 program scientists.

It is believed that Fakhrizadeh was targeted for assassination as far back as 2007. Mossad was planning a hit in 2009. The team conducting the assassination was in place but the operation was called off as the Mossad feared an ambush, the New York Times’ report said. However, Fakhrizadeh grew increasingly lax about his own security, as he had been subject to assassination rumors for several years and had taken to driving his own unarmored vehicle.