Several days ago, yet another Iranian scientist was assassinated in the streets of Teheran, making this the third such killing or attempted killing in a year and at least five overall if my count is correct. I’ve written before about the earlier incidents. The only difference this time is that reports were conflicted about who was killed, whether he was a nuclear scientist, and whether they possibly killed the wrong victim à la Lillehammer.
Muhammad Sahimi, one of the keenest observers here of the Iranian nuclear program and the general Iranian political scene, informs me that the murdered scientist, Darioush Rezaeinejad, was an electrical engineer researching a switch which could be used to trigger a nuclear device. It should be added that his research (see this abstract in Farsi) was published and publicly available. Also, the type of research he performed could be used for other purposes than triggering a nuclear device. Here is what Muhammad, who teaches chemical engineering at USC and is a contributor to PBS’ Teheran Bureau, wrote:
The switch has many, many applications in any systems that work with high voltages. I give [you] the link to Rezaei-Nejad’s abstract of the paper. Show it to any expert, and he will tell you that it has too many applications [to be considered secret], which is why it is out in public.
Iran continues to deny that Rezaeinejad was a nuclear scientist:
Iran’s intelligence minister, Heydar Moslehi, was quoted by the semi-official Isna news agency as saying: “The assassinated student was not involved in nuclear projects and [his murder] was not linked to [Iran’s] nuclear programme.”
Rezaeinejad, 35, was a masters student at Tehran’s Khaje Nasir Toosi University of Technology and was waiting to defend his thesis, officials said.
In the aftermath of his death, Iranian news agencies reported different and often contradictory accounts about Rezaeinejad’s background. Isna said he had links with Iran’s nuclear agency and Fars, an agency under the control of the Revolutionary Guards, said he was associated with the country’s defence ministry.
It would seem a stretch to deny the victim was involved with Iran’s nuclear program, though given that he studied electrical engineering and his research could have other uses, the claim is arguable.
The speaker of Iran’s parliament, Ali Larijani, one of the country’s power-players and its former nuclear negotiator, today accused the U.S. and Israel of masterminding the attacks. Though U.S. officials have denied the charges, Israel has pointedly refused to comment. When specifically asked how he responded to such charges, Defense Minister Ehud Barak answered “I don’t respond.” Shortly thereafter he broke out in something that was a cross between a smirk and a Cheshire grin.
Alon Ben David, military correspondent for Israel’s Channel 10, the reporter who broadcast the Barak non-statement, also aired a segment on the murder which all but confirmed Mossad involvement. Among other things, Ben David says:
If Mossad is responsible, it would be the first such assassination since Tamir Pardo took over as the agency’s chief. There appears to be an effective apparatus which has succeeded one after the other to attack the [personnel of the] Iranian nuclear program.
A former Mossad operations chief states, almost winking at the camera:
This creates the impression that to be [an Iranian] engaged in this work these days is a very dangerous proposition.
It should be noted that Iran’s intelligence minister has denied the hand of a foreign power in the killing so far. Though his statement doesn’t rule out the possibility that his view may change with further investigation. The U.S. too has denied Larijani’s accusations that it was involved. But it has naïvely warned Iran not to use the assassination and charges of foreign involvement as a “distraction” from its need to bring its nuclear program into compliance with international “obligations.” What this ignores of course is that any campaign by Israel to damage Iran’s nuclear capability will do precisely what the U.S. has warned against. It will persuade the nation’s leaders that there is an international conspiracy against it and that the best way to combat such a plan is to go full speed ahead regardless of what any other nation may say.
As Prof. Sahimi writes:
If Iran does want to develop the bomb – and I still doubt it does – nothing, certainly not terrorism of this type, will prevent it from happening, short of occupying Iran with military force. Iran is finally waking up to the fact that Israel and the U.S. have decided to decapitate its nuclear program by a program of state-sponsored terrorism. If anything, it will make the mullahs and IRGC more determined than ever.
Proof of this may be found in a statement today (translated from Farsi by Sahimi) by the commander of the Basij militia which further ratchets up the existential conflict between Israel and Iran, all thanks to the former’s plan of liquidation directed against Iran:
Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naghdi, the commander of the Basij militia, accused the United States of being the mastermind behind the assassination. Naghdi added that Israel executes the American plans and, “Today, in order to have complete security in the country, we have no choice other than eliminating the Zionist regime from the pages of time, so that our scientists can pursue their scientific jihad.”
Before the neocons and war hawks in Israel and America begin sharpening the tips of their nuclear warheads preparing for the moment they’ve been waiting for so long, let’s keep in perspective that these are words, not deeds. The deeds have come from the Israeli side (if my reporting here is correct) and those who kill (with bullets, not words) are responsible for escalation of the conflict.
Imagine for a moment that Stalin ordered the assassination of J. Robert Oppenheimer at the time he ran the Manhattan Project. Do you think for a minute that the U.S. wouldn’t have made it its business to take revenge on Stalin himself if necessary? Can you fault Iran for taking umbrage at the Mossad’s violations of international law and its sovereignty? What particularly offends me is that Israel acts as if its own actions have no repercussions. It would scream bloody murder if one of its political or military leaders was similarly targeted. But who truly would be to blame should such an event occur?
If Israel is responsible, it is a plan of covert action created by Pardo’s predecessor, Meir Dagan. The latter, I’ve speculated here before, likely created it as an alternative to an all out military attack advocated by Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, according to recent Israeli press accounts. The thinking appears to be that by chipping away at the Iranians through Stuxnet, industrial sabotage, and liquidating personnel Israel can delay the Iranians on their path to nuclear capability.
My problem with this is that this is a tactic but not a strategy. So what if you delay the inevitable? How do you gain if Iran still gets a nuclear weapon? Wouldn’t it make more sense to attempt to come up with a modus vivendi so that you either negotiate the best deal you possibly can and accept Iran’s joining the nuclear club; or you forestall such an eventuality by negotiating with the Iranians an accommodation that suits them (and you) and is short of getting the bomb. THAT would be a strategy. What Israel is presumably doing is like the Dutch boy putting his finger in the dyke when all along everyone knows there is simply too much water pressure on the other side and someday it’s gonna blow.
I also can’t help thinking of the orphans and widows created by this attack. What possible benefit can this campaign have? Does Israel truly believe that liquidating 5, 10, or even 25, Iranian scientists would sufficiently damage its nuclear program so as to prevent the country from reaching its goal, whatever that might be? So what if you delay it by a year or three. Eventually you have to face the music and decide whether you accept a nuclear Iran or whether you take far more drastic measures to prevent that from happening (with no guarantee you will succeed ultimately).