The scientist and the AI-assisted, remote-controlled killing machine

If Israel wanted to kill a senior Iranian official, which had the potential to start a war, it needed the consent and protection of the United States. That meant acting before Mr. Biden could take office. In the best-case scenario of Mr Netanyahu, even if Mr Biden wins, the assassination would ruin any chance of the nuclear deal being revived.

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh grew up in a conservative family in the holy city of Qom, the theological center of Shiite Islam. He was 18 when the Islamic Revolution overthrew the Iranian monarchy, a historical record that fired his imagination.

He wanted two dreams to come true: to become a nuclear scientist and participate in the military wing of the new government. As a symbol of his devotion to the revolution, he wore a silver ring with a large, oval red agate, as also worn by the supreme Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and General Suleimani.

He joined the Revolutionary Guard and was promoted to general. He earned a Ph.D. in nuclear physics from Isfahan University of Technology with a dissertation on “Identifying neutrons”, says Ali Akbar Salehi, former head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Agency and a long-time friend and colleague.

He led the Guards missile development program and pioneered the country’s nuclear program. As the Defense Ministry’s research director, he played a key role in the development of domestic drones and, according to two Iranian officials, traveled to North Korea to join forces on missile development. At the time of his death, he was Deputy Secretary of Defense.

“In the field of nuclear and nanotechnology and biochemical warfare, Mr. Fakhrizadeh was on par with Qassim Suleimani, but in a completely covert way,” said Gheish Ghoreishi, who has advised the Iranian Foreign Ministry on Arab affairs, in an interview.

When Iran needed sensitive equipment or technology that was banned due to international sanctions, Mr. Fakhrizadeh found ways to obtain it.

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