Haggai Carmon: Attorney and Author

The Short Life Expectancy of Iranian Nuclear Scientists: Assassinations with a Message

Was it an accident that on January 11, 2012 in the Seyed Khandan neighborhood
of northern Tehran an Iranian nuclear scientist was killed when a bomb was attached
to his car by two passing motorcyclists?

The fact that this attack was operationally similar to an attack on an Iranian nuclear
scientist a year earlier suggests that it was not an accident but an intentional killing with a

The semi-official Fars news agency identified the victim as Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, 32, “a deputy director of Natanz uranium enrichment facility for commercial affairs.” Other reports describe him as a chemical engineer with an expertise in polymer membranes, essential for uranium enrichment. For the first time, Iran promised revenge against Israel and the U.S.

Roshan is not the first Iranian key military or nuclear person to die young. On November 17, 2011 Major General Hassan Moghadam, the head of Iran’s ballistic missile program, was killed in a huge explosion at a missile base of the Revolutionary Guards. Was that an accident as well?

Given these mysterious past events, it is too much of a coincidence to label that huge explosion that killed 17 as a mishap in handling explosives, as the official Iranian narrative wants us to believe. No Iranian fingers pointed at Israel or the U.S. on that occasion. Obviously, the Iranian government doesn’t want Iranians and the world to believe that its enemies could penetrate so deeply into one of the most guarded areas in Iran, sabotage it and walk away with impunity.

It appears that the life expectancy amongst Iranian nuclear scientists and military personnel in sensitive positions is being shortened. This marks the second explosion at a Revolutionary Guard base in one year, and the sixth fatal accident in the past four years. All coincidences?

In November 2007, a series of explosions at Parchin military missile site south of Tehran injured several military personnel. In July 2008, a truck convoy carrying missiles intended for delivery to Hezbollah exploded. In August 2009, an airplane carrying missiles and explosives intended for Hezbollah crashed. In June 2011 an aircraft carrying Russian scientists working in the Iranian nuclear reactor in Bushehr crashed, killing five scientists.

On January 15, 2007, Ardeshir Hassanpour, an Iranian nuclear scientist working at a nuclear plant in Isfahan died. There were conflicting reports as to the cause of his death, which was reported only six days later. First, the cause of death was given as poisoning caused by a faulty heater. Other reports suggested that the cause of death was radioactive poisoning.

In January 2010, nuclear physicist Masoud Ali Mohammadi was killed by an explosive attached to motorcycle parked outside his home detonated by remote control.

In November 2010, Fereydoon Abbasi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization was wounded when a motorcyclist detonated a magnetic bomb hidden under his car by remote control. Abbasi was listed on a U.N. roster of people sanctioned for suspected links to nuclear

On the same day, Majid Shahriari, a nuclear physicist was killed by a bomb attached to his car by a motorcyclist.

In July 2011, Darioush Rezaeinejad was shot in the neck outside his daughter’s Tehran kindergarten by two gunmen on a motorcycle. Reports associated him with the development of a nuclear detonator.

In March 2007, a retired Iranian General and former deputy minister of defense Ali Reza Asgari disappeared in Turkey, never to be heard from again. The Iranian government accused the Mossad of kidnapping him. Western and Israeli media suggested that Asgari defected.

In Spring 2009, Shahram Amiri, an Iranian nuclear scientist disappeared while on pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. He later resurfaced in the United States. About a year later, two video clips appeared in the media and in each Amiri was narrating conflicting accounts. In one, he claimed that he had been kidnapped and tortured by Saudis and Americans; in the other video he stated that he was in the U.S. of his own free will. Then, in July 2010, Amiri appeared at the Iran Interests Section of the Embassy of Pakistan, in Washington DC seeking help to return to Tehran. He flew back shortly thereafter and in a press conference in Tehran he alleged that he had been kidnapped, tortured and bribed to cooperate with the CIA, but had refused. Unconfirmed reports indicate that now he is on trial in Iran for treason.

Whodunit? Who carried out these black bag operations? As always, and as customary with most intelligence services, neither the Mossad nor the CIA has had any comment.

However, one should not rule out that all or some of these operations were carried out by Iranian opposition groups, or even by the Iranian government itself. Iranian opposition groups claim that the government kills dissident scientists and then blames the murders on the CIA and the Mossad. For example Iranian opposition groups suggest that Mohammadi, a particle physicist, had been killed by the Iranian government because he was a supporter of Mir Hossein Mousavi, whom may have actually won the 2009 Iranian presidential elections before vote-tampering made Ahmadinejad president.

Does the killing of nuclear scientists stop or delay the Iranian nuclear weapons plan?

There are thousands of scientists and technicians on the job, and killing a few dozen individuals does harm the development of nuclear bombs, but only marginally. However there are ancillary by-products which could be the intended side effect of each of these operations: to instill fear and practically immobilize other scientists still working. The untold warning is clear: if you continue with your work in developing weapons of mass destruction, then you may be next on the hit list. In intelligence lingo it is called “white desertion.” The scientist continues working, but his mind is elsewhere, he fears for his life and quietly seeks a way out of the program. The unsolved sabotage and assassinations portray the Iranian government as incompetent, a severe blow to a regime whose culture demands honor and respect from the world.

If outside intelligence services carried out all or most of these operations, then much credit must be given to their multitasking ability; to gather combat zone intelligence with real time synching, along with an ability to execute complex dark operations in sensitive areas or against individuals under the Iranians’ close watch. Each of these actions requires not only accurate real time intelligence but also careful planning before, during and after the operations. Each require at least 15-25 operatives present on hostile Iranian soil. Careful and meticulous preplanning is needed, ways to enter and exit Iran surreptitiously, housing, transportation, communications, escape routes and contingency plans to extricate the combatants if something goes wrong. The fact that the Iranians were unable to identify any of the operators, let alone capture them, indicates that whomever was behind these operations is a well-organized professional clandestine entity with astounding capabilities that would make Hollywood thriller screenplay writers jealous.

Why don’t the Iranians retaliate? Its Revolutionary Guards include the Quds Force, a powerful unit that has shown its capability in carrying out assassinations and bombings in the West. One possible explanation is that the Iranian government fears retaliation by the West that would include an attack on Iranian nuclear installations. Furthermore, if the retaliation should target Israeli or Jewish targets, then Israel could respond. Israel would destroy the Hezbollah’s huge rockets arsenal financed and constructed by Iran. The Iranians supported the construction of these rocket sites also as deterrent against an attack on its nuclear plants by Israel. Therefore, the Iranians are currently grinding their teeth, but do not retaliate. Will that abstention continue? Only the supreme leader of Iran knows.