Foreign Policy Blogs

Iran Assassinations

Every informed and honest observer has known since 2002-3 that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program and that, in the absence of a general regional agreement, nothing ultimately will stop it from obtaining nuclear arms. It’s also pretty clear that the holocaust deniers currently running the country might actually use their bombs, and use them first, when they finally get them.

So one can only applaud upon learning that the Stuxnet worm was specifically engineered to cause trouble at Iran’s main uranium enrichment plant and that it almost certainly had some success in doing that–facts acknowledged for the first time yesterday by Iranian president Mamoud Ahmadinejad.

The context of that announcement is another matter. Ahmadininejad was denouncing the assassination that morning of one of the country’s leading nuclear scientists and the serious wounding of another important atomic physicist by the “Zionist and Western governments” involved. This was not the first time that Mossad has been held responsible for the murder of an adversary even as he sat next to his wife or another close family member, and it is never a pretty scene to contemplate.

Nor are the precursor events mentioned in the New York Times report on the Nov. 29 assassinations. According to the Times, last January a remote controlled bomb killed physics professor Massoud Ali Mohammadi outside his home, and two years before that another nuclear scientist died of gas poisoning. Neither was thought to be directly involved in the nuclear weapons program, but both were active participants in Sesame, an accelerator project in Jordan that was supposed to promote regional fence-mending.

A resuscitated machine that Germany had abandoned after reunification, Sesame was donated to the Middle East in the hopes that soon “Israeli scientists searching for new materials could run experiments next to Iranian biomedical researchers imaging proteins while Palestinian environmental scientists analyzed rock samples across the hall,” as a report by Sandra Upson in IEEE Spectrum magazine put it.

Using an ingenious computer worm to disrupt and slow operations in an industrial facility is one thing, but killing scientists in cold blood–however morally compromised they may be–is bound to do just what Defense Secretary Gates warned the Saudis about, according to the latest Wikileaks disclosures: To fortify Iran in its resolve to acquire nuclear weapons at the earliest opportunity.

Worse still will it be if Israelis are now fortified in conviction that they will always be able to stave off disaster with spectacular exploits. Unless there is a regional settlement, sooner or later the chickens will come home to roost.



William Sweet

Bill Sweet has been writing about nuclear arms control and peace politics since interning at the IAEA in Vienna during summer 1974, right after India's test of a "peaceful nuclear device." As an editor and writer for Congressional Quarterly, Physics Today and IEEE Spectrum magazine he wrote about the freeze and European peace movements, space weaponry and Star Wars, Iraq, North Korea and Iran. His work has appeared in magazines like the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and The New Republic, as well as in The New York Times, the LA Times, Newsday and the Baltimore Sun. The author of two books--The Nuclear Age: Energy, Proliferation and the Arms Race, and Kicking the Carbon Habit: The Case for Renewable and Nuclear Energy--he recently published "Situating Putin," a group of essays about contemporary Russia, as an e-book. He teaches European history as an adjunct at CUNY's Borough of Manhattan Community College.

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