The SDPR S&P 500 ETF Trust (NYSE: SPY) gave up some of its early gains on Friday following reports from Iran that a top nuclear scientist in the country has been assassinated.
What Happened: On Friday, Iran’s government said Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the so-called “father of the Iranian bomb,” was assassinated by a group of shooters.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif implicated Israel in the attack.
“This cowardice — with serious indications of Israeli role — shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators,” Zarif wrote on Twitter.
Why It’s Important: In 2018, Israeili Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran of running a secret weapons program led by Fakhrizadeh.
“Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh,” Netanyahu said.
That same year, President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of a nuclear deal that had been reached with Iran during the Barack Obama administration and reinstituted economic sanctions on Iran. In June 2019, U.S. officials said Iran was responsible for shooting down an unmanned U.S. surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz just a week after the U.S. accused Iran of attacking two oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.
In September 2019, the U.S. also blamed Iran for two attacks on Saudi Arabia’s largest oil field.
In January 2020, a U.S. air strike killed Iran’s top military commander Qasem Soleimani. The assassination of Fakhrizadeh comes after Iran had said it began injecting uranium hexafluoride gas into centrifuges just last week.
On Friday, Trump retweeted Israeli journalist Yossi Melman, who called Fakhrizadeh’s death “a major psychological and professional blow for Iran.”
The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has so far declined to comment on the assassination. Iran’s Major General Mohammad Bagheri has called for Fakhrizadeh’s death to be avenged.
Benzinga’s Take: Middle East tensions are always a wildcard that could disrupt U.S. markets at any time, and an escalation of strikes and retaliations among the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran is not good for investors.
Yet President-elect Joe Biden has said he would be willing to re-join the Obama-era nuclear agreement if Iran is willing to once again comply with the terms of the deal, suggesting there may be a potential path to de-escalating tensions once Biden takes office.
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