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03 Dec 2020 | 07:16 PM UTC

Israel: Authorities on Dec. 3 warns of increased threat of terrorism against Israelis abroad /update 1

Israel warns Dec. 3 of increased threat of terrorism against Israelis abroad due to potential Iranian retaliation for Nov. 27 assassination.

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Event

The Israeli National Security Council issued a travel advisory Dec. 3 warning of an increased threat of terrorism against Israelis abroad. The advisory cited threats of retaliation by Iranian officials who blame Israel for the Nov. 27 killing of physicist and nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh outside Tehran. Authorities did not specify the nature of the Iranian threats but stated that Iran could carry out attacks on Israeli citizens in nearby countries including Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as throughout the entire Middle East region, and the African continent.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs had instructed the nation's diplomatic missions abroad to boost security protocols and remain on high alert since Nov. 30. The officials called on Israel's consulates and embassies to maintain the highest possible level of preparedness and vigilance for any unusual activity in the vicinity of the missions, at the homes of employees and their families, and at Jewish and Israeli community centers. Israeli authorities will also likely maintain a heightened security presence domestically as a safeguard against possible attacks by pro-Iranian elements and Shi'a militias operating out of Lebanon, Syria, and Palestinian Territories.

Protests are possible outside Israeli diplomatic missions, as well as commercial buildings with ties to Israeli companies, in the coming days and weeks. Any such gatherings that may materialize could result in localized transport and business disruptions. Clashes between security forces and demonstrators cannot be ruled out.

Context

The Israeli government likely issued the travel advisory and instruction to its diplomatic missions out of an abundance of caution rather than in response to any specific intelligence concerning a planned attack. Tehran has directly blamed the Israeli government and its intelligence agencies for Fakhrizadeh's assassination and has vowed retaliation, though Iranian officials have not made any statement concerning when they might initiate such an action or what form it may take.

Fakhrizadeh, who served as the head of the Research and Innovation Organization within the Ministry of Defense, spearheaded the AMAD Project from 1987 to 2003. A covert military operation, the project’s sole purpose was to develop advanced defense technologies, including nuclear weapons. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), AMAD ended in 2003. Nevertheless, Fakhrizadeh continued serving at Iran’s Ministry of Defense. Dubbed the father of Iran's nuclear program, he was to Iran’s nuclear ambitions what Major General Qassem Soleimani was to Iran’s clandestine and special military operations.

Fakhrizadeh appears to have been killed largely due to the critical role he played in Iran’s nuclear program, which Tehran asserts is for peaceful purposes only. While there has as yet been no claim of responsibility for his assassination, those behind it likely seek to paralyze Iran’s nuclear program and deter its ambitions of pursuing a nuclear weapon. Fakhrizadeh’s killing may also be intended to discourage other prominent scientists in Iran from working for the government. The Israeli government is suspected of having killed at least four leading Iranian scientists between 2010 and 2012 in an attempt to slow down the country’s nuclear project.

The killing has greatly angered and humiliated the Iranian leadership and defense forces, particularly the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is responsible for protecting the country’s prominent political figures and leaders. Hence, the pressure to exact revenge is high, with some of the staunchest conservatives advocating some rather extreme responses. President Rouhani’s response has been much more measured. Rouhani has stated that Iran will respond in a proper time. The Iranian government’s top priority, however, is to find a way to put an end to the US economic sanctions, which have nearly crippled the nation’s economy. The Iranian government has stated that it will begin to fully comply with the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) - more commonly known as the "Iran nuclear deal" - under President-elect Joe Biden's administration if Washington were to end the sanctions. Retaliating directly against a close ally of the US, such as Israel, would greatly endanger that plan.

Advice

Maintain contact with your country's diplomatic mission. Plan accordingly for possible delays to diplomatic services and operations in countries where Israel has consulates or embassies in the coming days. Avoid all gatherings and rallies. Reconfirm business appointments.

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