Israel assassinated Iran's top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh last November using a remote-controlled machine gun and artificial intelligence, according to a report by the New York Times. The Israelis have killed several Iranian scientists over the years.
It's said that they had wanted to assassinate Fakhrizadeh for years, but for various reasons, this wasn't possible. However, once it was clear that former US President Donald Trump was going to be replaced by Joe Biden, the Israelis decided to go ahead and kill the 63-year-old.
Trump's unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 reassured the Israelis, but this did not last long. Prior to his election, Biden pledged to reverse the policies of his predecessor and return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that Israel had opposed vigorously.
Knowing that they were unlikely to get Biden's approval, the Israelis acted before the new president could take office. If Israel was going to kill a top Iranian official, an act that had the potential to start a war, it needed the assent and protection of Washington.
The NYT report said that the operation's success was the result of many factors: serious security failures by Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, extensive planning and surveillance by the Mossad spy agency, and indifference on the part of Fakhrizadeh. Apparently, having lived for decades under the threat of assassination, he had become used to new threats and as a result, didn't take the necessary precautions.
He was apparently killed using a high-tech, computerised gun kitted out with artificial intelligence and multiple-camera eyes, operated via satellite, and capable of firing 600 rounds a minute. It is reported that the remote-controlled machine gun can be situated anywhere and operated from a thousand miles away, qualities which the NYT believes are very likely to reshape the world of security and espionage in ways not seen before.
The fear is that this new technology could pose a serious threat to activists, political dissidents, and opposition figures in authoritarian states that purchase Israeli-made weapons. The occupation state is already at the centre of a global scandal over the way its "mercenary" spyware technology has been used to hack the phones of some 50,000 people, including heads of state.
Apparently, both Israel and the US were encouraged by Iran's relatively tepid response to the assassination of Gen Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian military commander killed in a US drone strike with the help of Israeli intelligence in January 2020. The reasoning at the time was that if they could kill Iran's top military leader with little blowback, it signalled that Iran was either unable or reluctant to respond more forcefully.