An opinion piece published by a hard-line Iranian newspaper has suggested Iran should attack the Israeli port city of Haifa if Israel carried out the killing of a scientist linked to its disbanded military nuclear programme.

Though the hard-line Kayhan newspaper has long argued for aggressive retaliation for operations targeting Iran, Sunday’s opinion piece went further, suggesting any assault be carried out in a way that destroys facilities and “also causes heavy human casualties”.

Israel, suspected of killing Iranian nuclear scientists over the past decade, has not commented on Friday’s killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

Iranian officials have blamed Israel for the attack, raising the spectre of renewed tensions that could engulf the region, including US troops stationed in the Persian Gulf and beyond.

Iran Nuclear
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed in an apparent ambush in Absard, a small city just east of Tehran (Fars News Agency/AP)

Kayhan published the piece written by Iranian analyst Sadollah Zarei, who argued Iran’s previous reactions to suspected Israeli air strikes that killed Revolutionary Guard forces in Syria did not go far enough to deter Israel.

Striking Haifa and killing a large number of people “will definitely lead to deterrence, because the United States and the Israeli regime and its agents are by no means ready to take part in a war and a military confrontation,” Mr Zarei wrote. He said an assault on Haifa needed to be greater than Iran’s ballistic missile attack against American troops in Iraq following the US drone strike that killed a top Iranian general in January.

Haifa, on the Mediterranean Sea, has been threatened in the past by both Iran and one of its proxies, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah recently suggested striking Haifa’s stores of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive fertiliser that fuelled the deadly Beirut port blast in August that killed 193 people and wounded 6,500 others.

While Kayhan is a small circulation newspaper in Iran, its editor-in-chief Hossein Shariatmadari was appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and has been described as an adviser to him in the past.

The Iranian parliament on Sunday held a closed-door hearing about Mr Fakhrizadeh’s killing. Afterwards, parliament speaker Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf said Iran’s enemies must be made to regret killing him.

“The criminal enemy does not regret it except with a strong reaction,” he said in a broadcast on Iranian state radio.

State television broadcast images of Mr Fakhrizadeh’s casket being flown to Mashhad, a holy Shiite city in Iran’s east home to the shrine of Imam Reza.

Iran’s judiciary chief Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi pays his respects in Tehran
Iran’s judiciary chief Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi pays his respects in Tehran (Mizan News Agency via AP)

Analysts have compared Mr Fakhrizadeh to being on par with Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist who led America’s Manhattan Project during the Second World War that created the atom bomb.

Mr Fakhrizadeh headed Iran’s so-called Amad programme that Israel and the West have alleged was a military operation looking at the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon. The International Atomic Energy Agency says the “structured programme” ended in 2003. Iran has long maintained its nuclear programme is peaceful.

His killing likely complicates the plans of US president-elect Joe Biden, who has said his administration will consider re-entering Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

It also raises the risk of an open conflict in the remaining weeks in office for President Donald Trump, who unilaterally withdrew the US from the atomic accord in 2018, beginning a series of escalating incidents between Tehran and Washington.