Cloak and dagger action in Iran
- From: Lance <lancegary@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Wed, 17 Feb 2010 13:37:41 -0800 (PST)
Covert action against Iran
Who killed the professor?
New light is being cast on the strange death of an Iranian physicist
Feb 11th 2010 | From The Economist print edition
WHEN a motorcycle was blown up by remote control in Tehran last month,
killing Masoud Alimohammadi, a professor of physics, the regime blamed
“the triangle of wickedness”—Israel, America and their “hired agents”.
It is no secret that America, Israel and European countries are
seeking to impede Iran’s nuclear plans, overtly and covertly. Yet the
assassination theory was widely dismissed. The professor’s known works
on particle and theoretical physics did not seem central to Iran’s
nuclear programme. And his name had appeared on a list of Iranian
academics favouring Iran’s protest movement. So, ran the prevailing
theory, Israel or America had little reason to kill him, though
Iranian hardliners may have wanted to do so.
But listen to the whispers of Western spies and diplomats, and the
Iranian regime may turn out to be right. Well-placed sources in two
Western countries now say the professor was “one of the most important
people involved in the programme”.
Such conclusions, admit some, are based on “imperfect insight” into
the workings of Iran’s nuclear establishment that includes the public
and ostensibly civil projects run by the Atomic Energy Organisation of
Iran (AEOI) and an overlapping but secret organisation run by the
ministry of defence that focuses more on turning fissile material into
The AEOI said it had not employed Mr Alimohammadi. Several Iran-
watchers said they had never heard of him until his death. But a
Western counter-proliferation source says he “is known to have worked
closely” with two key figures in Iran’s ministry of defence, Mohsen
Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi and Fereidoun Abbasi-Davani. Both are on the UN’s
sanctions list of Iranians whose assets are to be seized and whose
travels must be reported to the UN.
Even if correct, this does not prove the professor was killed by
outsiders. It may provide a stronger motive for Iran to kill a
scientist for flirting with the opposition or to stop his defection.
But why blow him up ostentatiously in the morning instead of removing
him quietly at night? Perhaps to warn other would-be defectors?
In any event, Western spooks are undoubtedly trying to thwart Iran’s
nuclear ambitions. There are stories of dodgy parts being slipped into
the black market where Iran shops for components. Some prominent
Iranians in recent years have mysteriously disappeared or died. They
include General Ali Reza Asgari, reported to have defected; Ardeshir
Hassanpour, a nuclear scientist, who died in 2007; and Shahram Amiri,
another nuclear scientist, who went missing last year on the haj to
What effect might all this have? Iranian scientists are said to have
run into technical problems, with malfunctioning centrifuges, among
other things. Inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency,
the UN’s watchdog, have found that about half Iran’s centrifuges are
idle and those that work are yielding little. Dennis Blair, America’s
director of national intelligence, has taken this as evidence that
Iran has been “experiencing some problems”.
A few days after the professor’s death, Al-Ahram, an Egyptian
newspaper that tends to echo the government, ran a glowing front-page
story calling Meir Dagan, head of Mossad, Israel’s spy service, the
“Superman of the Jewish state”. But for him, it said, “Iran’s nuclear
programme would long ago have been completed.”
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