For 14 years Israel had wanted to kill Iran’s chief military nuclear scientist and the father of its weapons program, who they suspected of leading Iran’s quest to build nuclear weapons.
Then last November “they came up with a way to do it with no operatives present” using a “souped-up, remote-controlled machine gun,” according to the New York Times:
(Thanks to Slashdot readers schwit1 and PolygamousRanchKid for sharing this story.) Since 2004, when the Israeli government ordered its foreign intelligence agency, the Mossad, to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, the agency had been carrying out a campaign of sabotage and cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear fuel enrichment facilities. It was also methodically picking off the experts thought to be leading Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Since 2007, its agents had assassinated five Iranian nuclear scientists and wounded another. Most of the scientists worked directly for Fakhrizadeh on what Israeli intelligence officials said was a covert program to build a nuclear warhead, including overcoming the substantial technical challenges of making one small enough to fit atop one of Iran’s long-range missiles. Israeli agents had also killed the Iranian general in charge of missile development and 16 members of his team.
But the man Israel said led the bomb program was elusive… This time they were going to try something new.
Iranian agents working for the Mossad had parked a blue Nissan Zamyad pickup truck on the side of the road connecting Absard to the main highway. The spot was on a slight elevation with a view of approaching vehicles. Hidden beneath tarpaulins and decoy construction material in the truck bed was a 7.62 mm sniper machine gun… The assassin, a skilled sniper, took up his position, calibrated the gun sights, cocked the weapon and lightly touched the trigger. He was nowhere near Absard, however. He was peering into a computer screen at an undisclosed location more than 1,000 miles away… Cameras pointing in multiple directions were mounted on the truck to give the command room a full picture not just of the target and his security detail, but of the surrounding environment…
The time it took for the camera images to reach the sniper and for the sniper’s response to reach the machine gun, not including his reaction time, was estimated to be 1.6 seconds, enough of a lag for the best-aimed shot to go astray.The AI was programmed to compensate for the delay, the shake and the car’s speed.
Ultimately 15 bullets were fired in less than 60 seconds. None of them hit Fakhrizadeh’s wife, who was seated just inches away.
The whole remote-controlled apparatus “was smuggled into the country in small pieces over several months,” reports the Jerusalem Post, “because, taken together, all of its components would have weighed around a full ton.” One new detail in the report was that the explosives used to destroy evidence of the remote-gun partially failed, leaving enough of the gun intact for the Iranians to figure out what had happened…
While all Israeli intelligence and defense officials still praise the assassination for setting back Iran’s nuclear weapons program dramatically, 10 months later and with the Islamic Republic an estimated one month away from producing sufficient enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb, the legacy of the operation is less clear… On the other hand, others say that even if Iran decides to move its uranium enrichment up to 90%, that is weaponized level, they still have to put together the other components of a nuclear weapon capability. These include tasks concerned with detonation and missile delivery. Fakhizadeh would have shone in these tasks and his loss will still be felt and slow down the ayatollahs.