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“War is merely the continuation of politics by other means.” Carl von Clausewitz

“Although our intellect always longs for clarity and certainty, our nature often finds uncertainty fascinating.” Carl von Clausewitz

“The Conqueror is always a lover of peace: he would prefer to take over our country unopposed.” Carl von Clausewitz

In this edition of “More than Meets the Eye,” I want to take a brief look at how warfare is beginning to take on a familiar form in the 21st century. Warfare in previous centuries was extremely messy, destructive, expensive, and devastating to nations and economies. It would be easy to conclude that High-Intensity Conflict has taken a back seat to a new kind of warfare, often referred to as Counter-Insurgency (COIN) warfare, also known as Asymmetric warfare. Through involving smaller armies and fewer major troop movements, the 21st century fusion of technology and ambition has created a, no less dangerous world than past centuries. All it has really done is to allow smaller nations to have a seat at the table of what is normally considered a “superpower” world council. How else would figures such as Kim Jong Un, (North Korea) Bashar al Assad, (Syria), and Hassan Rouhani (Iran) find themselves sitting at the same table with Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron, and Xi Jinping?

The lethality of relatively inexpensive weapon systems has created a new world that allows tiny states such as Israel, South Africa, Canada, and Australia to become major international power brokers. It is in this new world that we find a renewed enthusiasm for older forms of warfare combined with new technologies and networks.

The backdrop for the discussion this week is the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the alleged head of Iran’s peaceful nuclear program. We will discover that, though 21st century weapons are powerful, deception and misperception make their lethality look paltry. We will learn that few things are actually as they appear. Words are like mirrors; they have become merely a reflection of what we want to portray as real.

The review.

What do we know about Mohsen Fakhrizadeh? 

On Friday 27 November, Iran announced that an important player in its security apparatus, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh had been killed. Fakhrizadeh was a key architect of the country’s nuclear weapons program known as: Project Amad (Hope) that allegedly ended in 2003, though elements of it continued for a few years after.

Fakhrizadeh’s death marks the second death this year, that a foreign adversary successfully targeted and killed a major Iranian figure. In January, the United States killed Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force—the unit responsible for designing and implementing much of the country’s proxy strategy. 

The Iranian government describes Fakhrizadeh as the head of its peaceful atomic energy program. His resume, however, might tell a different story. Fakhrizadeh is a Brigadier General in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. 

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh led a life of such secrecy that even his age was under wraps, but much about the clandestine nuclear weapons program, that is believed to have been run by him, has long been known. Even as Fakhrizadeh stayed in the shadows, in 2011 the IAEA identified him as the suspected head of the AMAD Plan, which is believed to have been set up about two decades ago in order to oversee the main elements of the nuclear weapons program.

Iran denies ever having sought to develop a nuclear weapon. A landmark report by the UN nuclear watchdog (2011) identified Fakhrizadeh as a central figure in suspected Iranian work to develop technology and skills needed for atomic bombs and suggested he may still have a role in such activity.

The IAEA sought to meet with Fakhrizadeh however, they showed no sign that they would heed the request. Iran acknowledged Fakhrizadeh’s existence several years ago but claimed he was an army officer who was not involved in the nuclear program—  according to a diplomatic source with knowledge of the matter.

For a leading figure in the Iranian atomic science/technology development, Fakhrizadeh had a lot of ties with the military. It is difficult to imagine that he had no ties with weapons development. There is certainly more than meets the eye concerning this man and his actions.

How did Fakhrizadeh die?

There are varying reports from within Iran about how Fakhrizadeh was killed. Here is the short narrative derived from Tweets and interviews within the country.

Iranian journalist Mohamad Ahwaze, who claimed he obtained leaked information, said the attack was planned for a roundabout in Absard, a mountain resort village about 50 miles outside Tehran. Fakhrizadeh was known to have a villa there. The attack team had been observing Fakhrizadeh’s movements and knew when and where he was going to be driving from Tehran to Absard on a Friday. There were 12 assassins, described as being highly-trained and assisted by ‘security and intelligence services abroad’ – who were deployed to Absard while there were a remaining 50 people in the 62-person entourage helping with logistical support. He did not specify whether they were in Iran, or abroad.

A Hyundai Santa Fe with four passengers, four motorcycles, and two snipers were waiting for Fakhrizadeh at the scene of the ambush – along with a booby-trapped Nissan pickup. Half an hour before Fakhrizadeh’s convoy of three bulletproof cars arrived, the electricity was cut off to the area, Ahwaze reported. The team was in place when the first car passed the roundabout.  As the third car passed, the Nissan exploded, damaging electricity poles and transmitters, according to a state TV report from the area on Friday night.

The force of the explosion from the bomb hurled debris at least 300 meters, State television claimed. The second car, containing Fakhrizadeh, was then shot at, by the twelve assassins, including two snipers. The gunmen with the hit squad opened fire on the cars, and an intense gunfight ensued, according to Sepah Cybery, a social media channel affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Ahwaze tweeted: ‘According to Iranian leaks, the leader of the assassination team took Fakhrizadeh out of his car and shot him and made sure he was killed.’ The hit squad then vanished, having sustained no losses to their team, Ahwaze reported.

This is an incredible piece of reporting or quite an imaginative piece of story-telling. Reporting about an incident such as this with such detail is highly unlikely. It was carried out in a rather deserted area away from most civilians. The pictures give that away. These leaks appeared to come from Sepah Cybery an IRGC Social Media arm. The detail gives it away, all the way down to the statement as fact, that the leader of the ambush pulled Fakhrizadeh from the car and shot him execution-style. That was after he survived an explosion that hurled debris 300 meters away. That is quite an explosion to survive. Then they survived an onslaught of bullet fire from 10 armed men with heavy weapons and two snipers. Usually, accurate numbers are the first casualty of an engagement like this one. Most people are not standing around, counting to see who is shooting and who is dying. Of course, there could have been a drone flying overhead, watching the entire scene.

Other things do not match up. The attack reportedly took place at 7:28 pm local time. Nightfall came at about 5:20 pm. It was definitely dark at the time of the attack. This alone would make counting participants quite difficult. There were most likely no survivors. For the leader of the ambush to confidently walk up and extract Fakhrizadeh from the car and execute him, he must have felt quite certain that every possible bodyguard was dead. As you can see, the facts do not match up concerning this story, as well as many other stories the Iranians are telling. It would behoove the Western leaders to consider that it is just possible that the Iranians are using the “victim card” and the JCPOA as a ruse to give them more time to build an arsenal of nuclear weapons. This does not seem out of the realm of possibility to me as an analyst. 

The why.

I began this edition by saying that though 21st century weapons are powerful, deception and misperception make their lethality look paltry. We will learn that few things are as they appear. With little to no evidence, Iran has convinced global leadership that Israel has perpetrated this assassination, with the complicity of the United States. They are making that accusation with this flimsy narrative of events. 

I am not saying that Israel did not kill Fakhrizadeh, however, with the world as it is today, they could have said that just about anybody did it, and many would believe it. Why? Because Iran has played the victim card often enough that many nations are unknowingly playing right into their hands, with very little scrutiny of the facts. 

Most do not consider that Iran has many natural enemies in the region, from Saudi Arabia, to Egypt, to Jordan, as well as a host of other smaller countries. Iran has made a lot of enemies over the years.

Deception and misperception are critical weapons on the global warfare landscape today. People can say anything and act completely innocent. Many people are so hungry for peace that they will believe anything so that they do not have to fear war. That is why I quoted Clausewitz above, “The Conqueror is always a lover of peace: he would prefer to take over our country unopposed.” If national leaders continue to buy into Iran’s victimhood narrative, they will find themselves in a world where radical Islamic clerics have their hands-on buttons prepared to release a nuclear holocaust on their enemies, and for Iran, enemy #1 is Israel.

If you doubt my assessment, here is a list of quotes about Israel’s right to exist, made by Iranian leadership.

Mohammad Khatami, the former president of Iran: “If we abide by real legal laws, we should mobilize the whole Islamic world for a sharp confrontation with the Zionist regime … if we abide by the Koran, all of us should mobilize to kill.” (2000)

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: “It is the mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to erase Israel from the map of the region.” (2001)

Hassan Nasrallah, a leader of Hezbollah: “If they [Jews] all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.” (2002)

Nasrallah: “Israel is our enemy. This is an aggressive, illegal, and illegitimate entity, which has no future in our land. Its destiny is manifested in our motto: ‘Death to Israel.’” (2005)

Yahya Rahim Safavi, the former commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps: “With God’s help the time has come for the Zionist regime’s death sentence.” (2008)

Mohammad Hassan Rahimian, Khamenei’s representative to the Moustazafan Foundation: “We have manufactured missiles that allow us, when necessary to replace [sic] Israel in its entirety with a big holocaust.” (2010)

Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the commander of the Basij paramilitary force: “We recommend them [the Zionists] to pack their furniture and return to their countries. And if they insist on staying, they should know that a time will arrive when they will not even have time to pack their suitcases.” (2011)

Khamenei: “The Zionist regime is a cancerous tumor and it will be removed.” (2012)

Ahmad Alamolhoda, a member of the Assembly of Experts: “The destruction of Israel is the idea of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and is one of the pillars of the Iranian Islamic regime. We cannot claim that we have no intention of going to war with Israel.” (2013)

Nasrallah: “The elimination of Israel is not only a Palestinian interest. It is the interest of the entire Muslim world and the entire Arab world.” (2013)

Hojateleslam Alireza Panahian, the advisor to the Office of the Supreme Leader in Universities: “The day will come when the Islamic people in the region will destroy Israel and save the world from this Zionist base.” (2013)

Hojatoleslam Ali Shirazi, Khamenei’s representative in the Revolutionary Guard: “The Zionist regime will soon be destroyed, and this generation will be witness to its destruction.” (2013)

Khamenei: “This barbaric, wolflike & infanticidal regime of Israel which spares no crime has no cure but to be annihilated.” (2014)

Hossein Salami, the deputy head of the Revolutionary Guard: “We will chase you [Israelis] house to house and will take revenge for every drop of blood of our martyrs in Palestine, and this is the beginning point of Islamic nations awakening for your defeat.” (2014)

Salami: “Today we are aware of how the Zionist regime is slowly being erased from the world, and indeed, soon, there will be no such thing as the Zionist regime on Planet Earth.” (2014)

The action.

Resist the temptation to look at the Iranian government as a victim. Certainly, there is a victim here, the average Iranian citizen. Stay informed and share this article with others. More needs to be done to clarify the truth in the world today because deception is becoming the soup du jour for country leadership, especially those who are led by emerging megalomaniacs.

The follow-up.

Ethiopia Declares Victory, but Rebel Leaders Vow to Fight On…

European leaders lay out fresh plans to fight religious extremism…

The feed-back.

For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at:


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