Humiliated by the killing of a high nuclear scientist, Iranian officers sought this week to rewrite the assault as an episode of science fiction: Israel had executed him fully by distant management, spraying bullets from an automatic machine gun propped up in a parked Nissan with out a single murderer on the scene.
Even hard-liners mocked the brand new spin.
“Why don’t you simply say Tesla constructed the Nissan? It drove by itself, parked by itself, fired the photographs and blew up by itself?” one hard-line social media account stated. “Are you, like us, doubting this narrative?”
Since the killing of the scientist on Friday, contradictory experiences within the official information media concerning the escape and even existence of a success staff — together with assertions of prior warnings from the Inside Ministry concerning the assault — revealed tensions between competing Iranian intelligence businesses as every sought to dodge blame for an egregious safety lapse.
Iranian officers have vowed to avenge the killing of the scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a high-ranking official within the Protection Ministry. The prospect of a counterattack in opposition to Israel or the West threatens to hamper efforts by the incoming Biden administration to revive a nuclear settlement with Iran.
Mr. Fakhrizadeh, who had overseen Iran’s nuclear weapons program, was an apparent goal. He had been publicly singled out by Israeli leaders as a risk, and Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had made his safety a high precedence.
His dying was at the least the fourth assassination this yr of a high-profile determine underneath the safety of Iranian safety companies, starting with an American drone strike that killed the Iranian common Qassim Suleimani in January.
The failure to apprehend Mr. Fakhrizadeh’s killers has compounded a scandal over the federal government’s failure to stop the assassination itself. Iranians on social media mocked the brand new accounts of a completely automated execution as an try to attenuate the embarrassment of the killers’ clear getaway.
Officers in Israel, who’ve all however publicly acknowledged accountability, declined to touch upon the competing accounts of the killing.
Using a remote-controlled machine gun was not out of the query. Israel’s navy has such weapons and has deployed them elsewhere. Some Iranian experiences stated as early as Saturday that such a weapon was used within the assault on Friday, a day ambush on a rustic highway east of Tehran.
However early official Iranian experiences and witness accounts reported a gun battle between Mr. Fakhrizadeh’s bodyguards and as many as a dozen attackers. And present and former Israeli officers have boasted that Israeli intelligence businesses have a monitor report of safely extricating assassins from hostile territories, together with Iran.
Israel is believed to have killed at the least 5 Iranian scientists between 2007 and 2012 as a part of an effort to derail Iran’s nuclear program, which Israeli officers contemplate an existential risk. Tehran has credibly claimed to have caught solely one of many perpetrators, an Iranian who confessed on tv in 2010 that he had acquired coaching in Israel to plant a automotive bomb that killed a scientist as he was leaving his storage.
The brokers behind the opposite assassination makes an attempt and a few bigger operations are all believed to have escaped.
The position of a remote-controlled machine gun as a part of a fancy assault by a staff of assassins was first reported over the weekend in an account of the killing posted on-line by Javad Mogouyi, a documentary filmmaker for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. His father and father-in-law are members of the wing of the group charged with defending Mr. Fakhrizadeh, and Mr. Mogouyi’s account was adopted as authoritative on the time by a number of Iranian information organizations.
Earlier than the arrival of a dozen assassins, Mr. Mogouyi wrote, a Nissan had been parked at a roundabout, full of explosives and armed with an automatic machine gun. The remote-controlled gun opened hearth first, distracting Mr. Fakhrizadeh and his bodyguards because the assassins lay in wait.
An autonomous machine gun that seems to match that description has been employed by the Israeli navy since 2010. Developed by Rafael Superior Protection Techniques, the weapon features a built-in optical system for aiming and pictures. Its identify, which rhymes in Hebrew, means “you see-you shoot.”
Israeli information experiences citing a high intelligence official have stated the navy has used the weapon to kill Palestinians attempting to cross into Israel from Gaza.
The claims that the killing was carried out fully by a robotic weapon, although, appeared to emanate from the Revolutionary Guards. Two information businesses managed by the corps, Fars Information and Tasnim, first printed the claims on Sunday.
Ali Shamkhani, the secretary for the Nationwide Safety Council, echoed that account on Monday in an interview with Iranian state tv. He additionally asserted that Iranian intelligence had identified prematurely that an Israeli assault on the scientist would happen on the highway the place it occurred, and that the armed opposition group Mujahedeen Khalq was additionally concerned.
“Positively,” Mr. Shamkhani stated.
On Tuesday, in what gave the impression to be an try and shift blame towards the Revolutionary Guards for failing to cease the killing, a authorities spokesman stated that the Intelligence Ministry had warned the scientist’s safety staff weeks prematurely concerning the “particular and actual particulars” of a doable assassination try, together with potential places.
“This crime may have been prevented if safety protocols has been adopted they usually had been a little bit extra cautious,” the spokesman, Ali Rabeie, stated at a information convention.
Within the din of conflicting claims, the account of a completely automated killing appeared to realize little traction as a result of it contradicted early eyewitness accounts broadcast on state media in addition to feedback by the members of the family of the assassinated scientist.
Within the rapid aftermath, an eyewitness who was not recognized by identify stated that he had seen the Nissan explode and described an intense gun battle between the bodyguards and assassins.
“One gunman was sitting on the highway and he began capturing at my route,” stated the witness, who estimated that there have been a couple of half-dozen assassins. “I instantly put my automotive in reverse, however he stored capturing.”
Different preliminary experiences stated one of many bodyguards, Hamed Asghari, had thrown himself on the scientist and brought 4 bullets from the assassins. Relations stated the guard had survived however was in vital situation.
In an interview on state tv Saturday night time, Mr. Fakhrizadeh’s son Hamed stated that he had arrived on the scene inside minutes and that his mom had been along with his father within the automotive from the second of the assault till he died in her arms.
“It was not an assassination however a battle zone,” the son stated, endorsing the experiences of a two-way gunfight with the killers.
The widow of one other assassinated scientist informed state tv that she had met with Ms. Fakhrizadeh after the assault and seen shrapnel wounds throughout her face and physique. The widow, Shohreh Piran, stated that Ms. Fakhrizadeh had described “fixed gunshots whizzing over our head from left and proper.”
Some experiences initially claimed that one of many killers had been captured, though these claims have since been deserted.
The conflicting experiences fed a flurry of cynical humor on Iranian social media. After the robotic claims had been printed, Iranian Twitter circulated cartoonish footage of a Transformer toy with a blue Nissan chassis protruding of its chest.
The official narratives had been so “contradictory,” the author Abbas Taheri wrote on Twitter, “the heads of Iranian media ought to all resign over this embarrassment.”
However beneath the carping critical considerations festered.
“There’s an intelligence crack,” Brig. Common Hossein Dehghan, the chief navy adviser to Iran’s supreme chief, stated on state tv. “There are individuals within the system who’re offering our enemies with info, and the enemy is plotting and executing plans based mostly on these leaks.”