Experts believe that covert actions that include a campaign of assassinations, bombings, cyber attacks and defections are the modus-operandi used mainly by Israel to weaken the Iranian regime and to halt the country’s attempts to develop nuclear capabilities.
The latest strike against Iran came in the form of the assassination of a 32-year-old nuclear scientist, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, on Wednesday, when a magnetic bomb was placed on his car.
Roshan, who is at least the fifth Iranian scientist with nuclear knowledge to be killed since 2007, was working as a department supervisor at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant. Natanz is considered by the West to be a location at which Iran is working on the technology to develop nuclear weapons.
“Sabotage and assassination is the way to go, if you can do it,” Patrick Clawson, director of the Iran Security Initiative at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The New York Times in an interview published on Thursday.
Clawson said that a covert campaign was far preferable to overt airstrikes by Israel or the United States on suspected Iranian nuclear sites.
“It doesn’t provoke a nationalist reaction in Iran, which could strengthen the regime. And it allows Iran to climb down if it decides the cost of pursuing a nuclear weapon is too high,” he added.
On Wednesday, the United States condemned the killing of the scientist and denied Iran’s accusations that it was behind the assassination. Iran also blamed Israel and the U.S. for the Stuxnet computer virus that attacked Iran’s nuclear program in 2010.
Meanwhile, a former senior Israeli security official, who would speak of the covert campaign only in general terms and on the condition of anonymity, told The New York Times that uncertainty about who was responsible was useful. “It’s not enough to guess,” he said. “You can’t prove it, so you can’t retaliate. When it’s very, very clear who’s behind an attack, the world behaves differently.”
The former Israeli official said that Iran carried out many assassinations of enemies, mostly Iranian opposition figures, during the 1980s and 1990s, and had been recently accused of plotting to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States in Washington.
It has been said that Iran has killed people it considered enemies outside of the Islamic republic. In 1992, four Iranian dissidents were killed in a Berlin restaurant, and it is believed by many that Tehran was behind the murders.
At the same time, historians say that Israel used assassination as a statecraft tool to aid its creation, in 1948. According to analysts, Israel has killed dozens of Palestinian and other fighters and a small number of foreign scientists, military officials or people accused of being Holocaust collaborators.
The founder of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, was assassinated in an Israeli airstrike in 2004 inside Palestinian territories in Gaza.
But Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, believes that at least some of the murdered scientists could have been killed by the Iranian government, he told the Times. Some of them had shown sympathy for the Iranian opposition, he said, and not all appeared to have been high-ranking experts.
“I think there is reason to doubt the idea that all the hits have been carried out by Israel,” Mr. Sadjadpour said. “It’s very puzzling that Iranian nuclear scientists, whose movements are likely carefully monitored by the state, can be executed in broad daylight, sometimes in rush-hour traffic, and their culprits never found.”
Meanwhile, Mousa Sharififarid, an Iran expert, told Al Arabiya.net that it is true that some analysts blamed the Iranian government for the killing of one scientist in 2009, as he was a sympathizer with the anti-Iran regime Green Movement, but Roshan was working for the Natanz site, at which only highly loyal pro-regime individuals are employed.
Sharififarid said there was an explicit condemnation from the U.S. over Roshan’s assassination, but Israel did not voice the same political sentiment.
On Wednesday, an Israeli military spokesman, Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai, wrote on his official Facebook page that “I don’t know who took revenge on the Iranian scientist, but I am definitely not shedding a tear.”
On Thursday, Iran accused the IAEA of giving information to Israel and the U.S. to facilitate the killing of its scientists.