Terrorism In Tehran

A fourth nuclear scientist was assassinated in Iran today:

The 32-year-old professor who worked at a nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz died after a motorcyclist attached a magnetic bomb to his car while he was driving through Tehran. Mostafa Roshan is now the fourth person linked to Iran's nuclear industry that has been murdered in a similar fashion in the last two years. In both January and November of 2010, another university professor and a nuclear scientist were killed by similar bombs stuck underneath their cars. (However, at least one Iranian observer suggested the targets could be opposition members killed by internal forces.)

I don’t, for a single moment, believe this is the work of internal forces. So, the undeclared secret war no drifts closer and closer to open conflict.

Nota bene: Interesting remarks by Leon Panetta Sunday morning and an interesting interpretation of them can be found here. Is he really reiterating the findings of the 2007 NIE? Informed comments are most welcome.

Nota bene 2: A nuclear engineer writes in Bloomberg that proving nuclear weapons development charges against Iran is no “slam dunk.”

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Sean Paul Kelley

Traveler of the (real) Silk Road, scholar and historian, photographer and writer - founder of The Agonist.

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  • …whether this is terrorism as formally defined. If the means of killing this guy were any different (i.e., did it not use an explosive device), would it be labelled terrorism? I’m not sure that this has sufficient scale to rise to the level of generally intimidating or coercing the body politic.

    In combat one should be very suspicious of painless moral choices. When you are confronted with a seemingly painless moral choice, the odds are that you haven’t looked deeply enough.” ~ Karl Marlantes

  • …the 2007 NIE and what we now know is that for the purposes of the NIE they defined “nuclear weapons program” as including covert uranium enrichment-related work. Reporting would seem to indicate that at the same time they knew or suspected that the then undeclared Fordow facility was under construction. That’s a curious discontinuity.

    As to Kelley’s commentary, it would be more accurate to characterize them to the effect of proving ongoing nuclear weapons work is no slam dunk. Proving current dual use work and proving prior nuclear weapons work are more in the “slam dunk” category.

    In combat one should be very suspicious of painless moral choices. When you are confronted with a seemingly painless moral choice, the odds are that you haven’t looked deeply enough.” ~ Karl Marlantes

  • Other than extra-legal murder, what else would you call multiple individual killings of members of a particular scientific community in a particular country in order to create fear and uncertainty in that community and in that country other than terrorism?

    Would a bomb set off in Times Square at 3 a.m. by a suspected al Qaeda operative that killed only one person not be considered terrorism?

  • …create fear and uncertainty in the country generally. If they wanted to do so, it would be quite easy for the attackers to be quite unambiguous in this regard – rather than use a few ounces of explosive, use a few pounds and go actively for mass casualties as collateral. The key difference is in the intent – if it isn’t aimed relatively broadly for specifically political ends, it’s more difficult to characterize as terrorism rather than as some other form of violence.

    In combat one should be very suspicious of painless moral choices. When you are confronted with a seemingly painless moral choice, the odds are that you haven’t looked deeply enough.” ~ Karl Marlantes

  • Tensions escalate with US and Israel as Tehran accuses the Mossad in fifth murder of scientists

    The Guardian, By Saeed Kamali Dehghan & Julian Borger, January 11

    A chemist working at Iran’s main uranium enrichment plant was killed on Wednesday when attackers on a motorbike stuck a magnetic bomb to his car.

    The assassination – the fifth against Iranian nuclear scientists in the past two years – is likely to further escalate tensions between Iran and the west.

    It took place at 8.30am, at the height of rush-hour in Tehran, according to witnesses quoted in the Iranian media.


    Iran has said the US and Israel are behind the assassinations, and blamed the Mossad for Wednesday’s killings.

    Washington denied any involvement, while Israel, whose military chief had warned Iran on Tuesday to expect more “unnatural” events, declined to comment.

    Adversaries of Iran Said to Be Stepping Up Covert Actions

    New York Times, By Scott Shane, January 11

    WASHINGTON — As arguments flare in Israel and the United States about a possible military strike to set back Iran’s nuclear program, an accelerating covert campaign of assassinations, bombings, cyberattacks and defections appears intended to make that debate irrelevant, according to current and former American officials and specialists on Iran.

    The campaign, which experts believe is being carried out mainly by Israel, apparently claimed its latest victim on Wednesday when a bomb killed a 32-year-old nuclear scientist in Tehran’s morning rush hour.

    The scientist, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, was a department supervisor at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant, a participant in what Western leaders believe is Iran’s halting but determined progress toward a nuclear weapon. He was at least the fifth scientist with nuclear connections to be killed since 2007; a sixth scientist, Fereydoon Abbasi, survived a 2010 attack and was put in charge of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization.

    Iranian officials immediately blamed both Israel and the United States for the latest death, which came less than two months after a suspicious explosion at an Iranian missile base that killed a top general and 16 other people. While American officials deny a role in lethal activities, the United States is believed to engage in other covert efforts against the Iranian nuclear program.

    The assassination drew an unusually strong condemnation from the White House and the State Department, which disavowed any American complicity. The statements by the United States appeared to reflect serious concern about the growing number of lethal attacks, which some experts believe could backfire by undercutting future negotiations and prompting Iran to redouble what the West suspects is a quest for a nuclear capacity.

    “The United States had absolutely nothing to do with this,” said Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared to expand the denial beyond Wednesday’s killing, “categorically” denying “any United States involvement in any kind of act of violence inside Iran.”

  • …enrichment-related activities was part of the definition of having a nuclear weapons program, why did they assess with a high degree of confidence in 2007 that that program had stopped in 2003? Either they hadn’t yet characterized Fordow as a nuclear related facility (if you look at the overheads there’s a lot of tunnelling activity in Iran), or their definition of a nuclear weapons program isn’t quite what it is or was publicly billed as.

    In combat one should be very suspicious of painless moral choices. When you are confronted with a seemingly painless moral choice, the odds are that you haven’t looked deeply enough.” ~ Karl Marlantes

  • The Guardian, January 14

    Iran has accused the US and Britain of being behind the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist this week in Tehran.

    Iran’s foreign ministry has sent a diplomatic letter to the US saying that it has “evidence and reliable information” that the CIA provided “guidance, support and planning” to assassins “directly involved” in Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan’s killing, the IRNA state news agency reported on Saturday.


    IRNA also reported that Iran delivered a letter to Britain accusing the UK of having an “obvious role” in the killing. It said that a series of assassinations began after British intelligence chief Sir John Sawers hinted in 2010 at intelligence operations against Iran.

    Sawers has previously said intelligence-led operations were needed to make it more difficult for countries like Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

    General Masoud Jazayeri, the spokesman for Iran’s joint armed forces staff, said Tehran was “reviewing the punishment” of “behind-the-scene elements” involved in the assassination, IRNA reported.

    “Iran’s response will be a tormenting one for supporters of state terrorism,” he said, without elaborating. “The enemies of the Iranian nation, especially the United States, Britain and the Zionist regime, or Israel, have to be held responsible for their activities.”

  • Mitra Amiri and Robin Pomeroy | Tehran | January 13

    Reuters – The Tehran funeral on Friday of a nuclear scientist blown up by a hitman saw the ruling clergy urge Iranians to rally behind it at a forthcoming election and face down Western and Israeli threats against Iran’s nuclear programme.

    Underscoring the global reach of the standoff, the United States imposed sanctions on a Chinese state-run energy firm for trading with Iran and assured Israelis it was ready to use force to stop Tehran acquiring nuclear weapons; but Moscow warned that it would view any attack on Iran as a threat to Russia.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, often seen as a hawk on military action, said, however, he saw new grounds to hope that Tehran could be persuaded to change tack by sanctions, through which, he said, “for the first time, I see Iran wobble.”

    In a mood of high emotion in a Tehran beset by U.S. and European sanctions and fears of war, hundreds of mourners followed the flag-draped coffin of Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan through the streets of the capital, two days after he and his driver were killed by a motorcycle assassin in rush-hour traffic.

    “Death to America! Death to Israel!” chanted the crowd streaming away from weekly prayers at Tehran University, where the dead man was hailed as a martyr in the tradition of Imam Hussein, a revered figure for Iran’s Shi’ite branch of Islam.

    “Nuclear energy is our absolute right!” young men chanted.


    In combat one should be very suspicious of painless moral choices. When you are confronted with a seemingly painless moral choice, the odds are that you haven’t looked deeply enough.” ~ Karl Marlantes

  • Mark Perry | January 13

    Foreign Policy – Buried deep in the archives of America’s intelligence services are a series of memos, written during the last years of President George W. Bush’s administration, that describe how Israeli Mossad officers recruited operatives belonging to the terrorist group Jundallah by passing themselves off as American agents. According to two U.S. intelligence officials, the Israelis, flush with American dollars and toting U.S. passports, posed as CIA officers in recruiting Jundallah operatives — what is commonly referred to as a “false flag” operation.

    The memos, as described by the sources, one of whom has read them and another who is intimately familiar with the case, investigated and debunked reports from 2007 and 2008 accusing the CIA, at the direction of the White House, of covertly supporting Jundallah — a Pakistan-based Sunni extremist organization. Jundallah, according to the U.S. government and published reports, is responsible for assassinating Iranian government officials and killing Iranian women and children.

    But while the memos show that the United States had barred even the most incidental contact with Jundallah, according to both intelligence officers, the same was not true for Israel’s Mossad. The memos also detail CIA field reports saying that Israel’s recruiting activities occurred under the nose of U.S. intelligence officers, most notably in London, the capital of one of Israel’s ostensible allies, where Mossad officers posing as CIA operatives met with Jundallah officials.


    [Comment: Gee, I wonder if this will make folks cautious about this round of breathless speculation about US ‘black ops’? Nah. Skepticism is so 20th century. ~ JPD]

    In combat one should be very suspicious of painless moral choices. When you are confronted with a seemingly painless moral choice, the odds are that you haven’t looked deeply enough.” ~ Karl Marlantes

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