State-Sponsored Terrorism: Nuclear Assasinations

Current tension surrounding Iran’s nuclear programme reflects a considerable degree of visibility despite current perceptions of mystery.

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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a report in November 2011 renewing suspicions that Iran is attempting to produce nuclear weaponry. Despite President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s continued insistence that his country’s nuclear efforts are entirely peaceful, a series of violent attacks since early 2010 have left numerous Iranian nuclear scientists and military personnel dead, prompting both support and condemnation from political commentators. It has been suggested that such attacks may be necessary to force Iran into capitulation over its pursuit of nuclear weapons, but critics maintain that these assassinations of unarmed civilians constitute state-sponsored terrorism.

Iran has blamed the United States and Israel for the attacks, a charge categorically denied by the US but unofficially embraced by the Israeli government. A report in the French newspaper Le Figaro in early January this year has suggested that exiled opponents of Iran are being trained by Israeli intelligence agency personnel in the Kurdish region of Iraq in order to successfully maintain the assault on Iran’s nuclear programme. The recruitment and training of various external groups by Israeli intelligence is not without precedent, however, and has been the subject of much investigation and political commentary. In 2006, the BBC uncovered evidence that Kurds had been receiving training in Iraq from Israel, prompting criticism from Arab countries over the presence of Israeli personnel in the region. A recent report in Foreign Policy magazine, meanwhile, has shed light on attempts by Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency to recruit members of Jundallah, a terrorist organisation centred in Pakistan. In an official statement, the US State Department described Jundallah as responsible for ‘numerous attacks resulting in the death and maiming of scores of Iranian civilians and government officials,’ adding that the group ‘uses a variety of terrorist tactics, including suicide bombings, ambushes, kidnappings and targeted assassinations.’

These examples of interaction are important in explaining the persistent tensions between Israel and Iran, but are also indicative of the secrecy shrouding the current situation, with reports noting recent speculation surrounding the degree to which various states have been involved with the attacks on Iran’s nuclear personnel. Iranian journalist Saeed Kamali Dehghan described the situation as follows: ‘These days, more than ever, news from Iran is surrounded in mystery. Whether it’s the assassination of nuclear scientists, explosions at military bases, the spread of a computer worm or even the downing (or crash) of a US spy drone, it is difficult to establish with certainty what is really happening.’ However, while the details of Iran’s nuclear programme, as well as attempts to dismantle it, remain unclear, labels such as ‘covert operations’ and ‘espionage’ seem inadequate in describing the violent nature of recent events.

Attacks aimed at nuclear and military facilities have been explosive by design, with blasts occurring in November last year at a military base in Tehran and at buildings used for the nuclear programme in Isfahan, a city south of Tehran. The killings of scientists Masoud Alimohammadi, Majid Shahriari and Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan by means of explosive devices, as well as the shooting of scientist Darioush Rezaeinejadhave, demonstrate that the targeted assassinations of prominent nuclear figures have been no more discrete.

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