Questioning the timing of the attack, Nader Hashemi, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver, proposed two theories on the reason behind the failed murder attempt. One was that an agent for Mossad had communicated with the alleged stabber, Hadi Matar, and the other was that Iran was behind the attempt in retaliation for the 2020 killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
"So one possible explanation, could be that after the assassination of Iran's top general Qassem Soleimani, Iran was looking to retaliate," Hashemi said, according to the Jerusalem Post. "The Department of Justice, a few days before the attack on Salman Rushdie, announced that the Iranian [Islamic] Revolutionary Guard Corps were seeking to assassinate Mike Pompeo and John Bolton. So this could be one possible explanation. They couldn't go after Pompeo and Bolton, in other words, the IRGC couldn't go after those high-value targets so they chose a soft target such as Salman Rushdie."
The theory behind a Mossad agent posing as a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, however, was more likely, Hashemi said.
"The other possibility, which I actually think is much more likely, is that this young kid Hadi Matar was in communication with someone online who claimed to be an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps member or supporter, and lured him into attacking Salman Rushdie," Hashemi said. "That so-called person online claiming to be affiliated with the Islamic Republic of Iran could've been a Mossad operative."
Israel is against the revival of the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, which originally curtailed Iran's development of nuclear weapons in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Former President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018, which restarted Iran's nuclear activities.
Iran was in the process of reviving the agreement with the United States when Rushdie was attacked, Hashemi said.
"Israel has taken a very strong position against reviving the Iran nuclear agreement," Hashemi said. "We were in very sensitive negotiations, like an agreement was imminent, and then the attack on Salman Rushdie takes place. I think that's one possible interpretation and scenario that could explain the timing of this at this moment during these sensitive political discussions related to Iran's nuclear program."
Rushdie, who was stabbed multiple times onstage moments before he was expected to give a lecture in New York City earlier this month, has lived under a constant threat to his life for many years. The threats stem from the 1980s publication of his book The Satanic Verses, which many Muslims believed to be blasphemous. A bounty as high as $6 million was also placed on his life, the Index on Censorship said.
Matar, the prime suspect in the stabbing, was indicted by a grand jury last week and is being held without bail.