Quick takes // By Ben FrankelIsrael takes out another Iranian nuclear scientist

Published 11 January 2012

Yet another Iranian scientist associated with Iran’s nuclear weapons program has been killed earlier today: Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, who was the deputy director of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, was killed when a “sticky” bomb was attached to his car by two men on a motorcycle; in the last two years, Israel’s Mossad has taken out four leading Iranian nuclear scientists; there are reports that this latest strike was a joint Mossad-MEK operation

Israel’s relentless campaign against Iran’s nuclear weapons program has claimed yet another Iranian nuclear scientist. Fars, the Iranian news service, reported this morning that a leading scientist involved in Iran’s nuclear weapons program had been killed in Tehran.

The scientist, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, was the deputy director of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, a key link in Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The facility houses a centrifuge farm with about 8,000 gas centrifuges.

Roshan is the fourth Iranian nuclear scientist killed in the last two years. Since the beginning of the decade, about a dozen leading scientists and engineers associated with Iran’s nuclear program have been killed.

The method of Roshan’s killing was similar to the method used by Mossad operatives to kill some of the other scientists: two men on a motorcycle rode near Roshan’s care and attached a magnetic – or “sticky” – bomb to the car, then fled. The bomb exploded a few seconds later.

Reuters reports that in addition to the scientist, the bomb killed one pedestrian and seriously injured another man who was riding in the car with Roshan. That man later died in the hospital.

Similar Mossad operations in the last two years:

  • Two years ago to the day, on 12 January 2010, Tehran University professor Masoud Ali Mohammadi, a senior physics professor, was killed when a motorcycle carrying a hidden bomb exploded near his car as he was about to leave for work.
  • In November 2010 a bomb attack in Tehran killed Majid Shahriari, a member of the nuclear engineering faculty at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran who worked for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization. A few minutes later, in a different part of the capital, another scientist, another bomb seriously wounded Fereidoun Abbasi. When Abbasi recovered, he was appointed head of Iran’s atomic agency.
  • In July 2011, motorcycle-riding gunmen killed Darioush Rezaeinejad, who was described by Iran as an electronics student. It was later confirmed that he was a scientist involved in Iran’s nuclear weapons program, specializing in developing high-voltage switches for triggering a nuclear warhead.

Time quotes Mickey Segal, a former director of the Iran Division in the Israel Defense Force (IDF) Military Intelligence branch as saying: “Many bad things have been happening to Iran in the recent period…. Iran is in a situation where pressure on it is mounting, and the latest assassination joins the pressure that the Iranian regime is facing.”

There are two interesting twists to this latest episode:

  • The French daily Le Figaro writes that Israeli agents have been operating in the Kurdish regions of Iraq for some time now, recruiting and training Kurdish operatives for covert sabotage campaign against the Iranian regime and its strategic assets (see more detailed discussion in Intelnews). The Israeli-Kurdish covert effort in north-west Iran is similar to the U.S.-Bloch covert effort in south-east Iran. Since 2003, the CIA has been aiding Jundallah, an ethnic Baloch nationalist rebel group, to wage a campaign of violence and sabotage against the central regime in southeastern province of Sistan-Balochistan in the name of local Baloch minority rights. Both efforts are aimed to destabilize the regime and weaken its hold on the country.
  • This support by Israel and the United States (arms, training, intelligence sharing, etc.) of anti-regime groups in Iran may begin to yield results beyond blowing up bridges, power stations, and munitions depots: the usually reliable Richard Silverstein reports: “My own confidential Israeli source confirms today’s murder was the work of the Mossad and MEK, as have been a number of previous operations I’ve reported here.”

The MEK, or the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, is leftist organization founded in 1965 to fight against the Shah. For a short while during and after the 1979 revolution in Iran, the organization sided with the Ayatollahs, but by 1981 it broke with the regime and launched a series of sabotage activities against it. During the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, MEK operatives were given refuge in Saddam’s Iraq and actively helped the Iraqis in the war against Iran.

The MEK was designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and the EU. The organization renounced violence in 2001, and the EU has removed it from the EU’s terrorist list in 2009. There are efforts in the U.S. Congress to remove the MEK from the U.S. terrorist list.

Ben Frankel is editor of the Homeland Security NewsWire