ANALYSIS Iran Scientist Likely Killed by Opponents of Nuclear Program

The possibility that Western, or even Israeli, spy agencies are behind the killing is supported by precedent.

Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman
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Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman

It's doubtful we will ever know who really killed the Iranian nuclear scientist Massoud Ali Mohammadi. Those who carried out the assassination will never claim responsibility, and those who will, probably didn't do it.

In light of the complexity of Iranian affairs, many organizations might have an interest in Dr. Mohammadi's death. Theoretically, it could be a hit by Iran's Revolutionary Guards or the intelligence community. Mohammadi identified with the opposition and with the 2009 presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi.

There is, however, no precedent in Iran, at least not in recent years, of such a violent assassination of an opponent of the regime or a suspected spy. The regime usually deals with such cases with arrest followed by a trial or by permanent disappearance.

It could be an underground organization opposing the regime such as the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, or groups representing ethnic or religious minorities such as Kurds, Arabs or Sunnis. These groups have carried out violent actions and terror attacks against symbols of the regime - either on their own behalf or for foreign intelligence agencies.

Therefore, it is more likely that the assassination was carried out by those seeking to damage and delay Iran's nuclear program. That, of course, means Western governments, especially the United States and Israel. These governments use their espionage agencies to gather information about the Iranian nuclear program. There are reports about efforts to damage equipment purchased abroad for the program, to recruit agents from within Iran's nuclear project with access to information, and to lure senior officials associated with the country's nuclear program to defect.

The possibility that Western, or even Israeli, spy agencies are behind the latest assassination is supported by precedent. According to foreign news reports, Israel acted in a similar fashion during the 1960s against German scientists working to develop missiles in Egypt, and during the 1970s against various scientists. These included Egyptians and the Canadian scientist Gerald Bull who worked on Iraq's nuclear and missile projects under Saddam Hussein.

His colleagues at Tehran University claim that Mohammadi was not connected whatsoever with Iran's nuclear program. However, precedent shows that Iranian universities, especially the chemistry and physics departments, have served as a front for Iran's nuclear program. They have purchased and hid equipment, and their professors and experts have served as consultants for the program.

Reports have increased in recent years about attempts by Western espionage agencies to harm Iranian scientists; there have even been a few reports about Iranian scientists who died under mysterious circumstances. In one case, a scientist died at home, ostensibly of suffocation from a gas space heater.

No matter who is behind yesterday's incident it is obvious that this Beirut- or Gaza-style assassination represents another blow to the regime's image, as well as to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The regime faces determined opposition at home, as well as international threats and pressure - including the threat of military action against its nuclear program. It also faces ethnic and religious minorities operating underground organizations that occasionally carry out violent acts against the regime to win autonomy or rights denied to them.

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