Cries of “death to America, death to Israel" were heard at a huge staged funeral in Tehran mourning the unfortunate assassination of 32 year old Iranian Tehran University nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan Wednesday. Roshan was targeted because of his supervisory role at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility. Roshan’s assassination, the fourth of an Iranian nuclear scientist since 2010, looks like a script that could have been taken from the pages of a Daniel Silva thriller about fictional retired Mossad hit team leader and art restorer, Gabriel Allon. Roshan and his driver were taken out by a sticky magnetic bomb planted deftly to the side of the Peugeot 405 sedan by an accomplice on a motor bike during morning traffic. Immediately, in the wake of Roshan’s assassination Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that the US was not involved, but commented, “We have some ideas as to who was behind it.” Israel’s President Shimon Peres said that “to my knowledge, Israel was not involved.” The IDF military spokesperson wrote on his Facebook page "Don't know who settled the score with the Iranian scientist, but for sure I am not shedding a tear."
According to a report in today’s Jerusalem Post, the Iranian foreign ministry had lodged protest letters with the Swiss Embassy in Tehran alleging that this assassination was a “CIA- MI6 assassination plot.”
This assassination comes amidst increasing tensions in the Persian Gulf between the Islamic regime and the US Navy and Coast Guard. Iran threatens possible closure of a major maritime choke point in the world’s oil trade, the Straits of Hormuz. The Pentagon released videos of IRGC fast boats harassing the USS New Orleans and USCG vessel, Adak amidst the movement into the Arabian Sea of another US carrier battle group. The assassination of Roshan was also set against the backdrop of alleged tougher sanctions against Iran’s Central Bank by the US and oil purchase restrictions to be implemented by the EU later this month. Sanctions that have created financial panic in Iran’s faltering economy highly dependent on oil export revenues.
A year ago, Iranian television broadcast the confession of one alleged agent who described studying a scale model of the home of the scientist he helped assassinate by hiding a bomb on a motorcycle outside the front door. "It was the exact copy of the real one, even the size, material, its color, the tree next to it, its asphalt, the street curb, the bridge," said Majid Jamali Fashi on the air. He said he viewed the model in Mossad's headquarters in Tel Aviv, which he described in detail. Intelligence sources confirmed Fashi's involvement in a Mossad cell that the sources claim was revealed to Iran by a third country.
Fashi was sentenced to death for his role in the killing of nuclear physicist Massoud Ali Mohammadi, who suffered mortal shrapnel wounds in front of his house on Jan. 12, 2010. Three other nuclear scientists heard magnetic bombs snap onto their car doors during their commute to work — a method Fashi claimed he had also been taught by the Israelis. Besides Ahmadi-Roshan and Shahriari, the victims include Fereydoon Abbasi, a university professor, who survived and was promoted to head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.
A fourth scientist, Darush Rezaei-Nejad, was killed outside his home by shots fired from a motorcycle on July 23, 2011. A student of electrical engineering, his connection to the Iranian nuclear program remains a matter of dispute.
The similarities among the attacks were not lost on Iranian authorities, who immediately blamed both Israel and the U.S. for Wednesday's attack. "The bomb was a magnetic one and the same as the ones previously used for the assassination of the scientists and is the work of the Zionists," Tehran's Deputy Governor Safar Ali Baratlou was quoted as saying by the Fars News Agency.
If Mossad was involved there is more than ample precedent. In February, 2008, Hizbullah terrorist mastermind, Imad Mughniyeh was assassinated by a bomb in Damascus as he stepped into his Mitsubishi Pajero SUV after attending an event at the Iranian Embassy commemorating the anniversary of the founding of the Islamic Republic. In our 2011 NER report on the aftermath of 9/11 Islamic terrorism we noted:
The presence of Imad Mughniyah, the Hizbullah terror chieftain, assassinated in Damascus in 2008, allegedly by Israel’s Mossad. Mughniyah was involved in the 9/11 planning. Until 9/11 Mughniyah was at the top of the FBI’s Most Wanted terrorist list for his involvement in the planning of the 1983 Marine and French paratrooper barracks and US Embassy attacks in Beirut that killed over 350. Then there was the killing of a US navy diver Robert Stethem in a 1985 skyjacking of a TWA flight, kidnapping of several westerners in Beirut and the torture and murder of CIA station chief, William Buckley.
Israel had its own reasons to take out Mughniyah. He was the organizer of the 1992 Buenos Aries Israeli Embassy bombing that killed 29 injuring more than 242 persons and the bombing in 1994 of the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 injuring hundreds. Mughniyah figured prominently in the trial record of the recent Iran Links case decision in the Southern District Court of Manhattan as the key figure who facilitated transit between Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran for the so-called Hamburg cell of 9/11 perpetrators. Both the CIA and Mossad had compelling motivation to assassinate Mughniyah. The informed opinion was that it was Mossad who may have accomplished it.
These drive-by assassinations of leading Iranian nuclear scientists raises some tantalizing questions. First, is do these events reveal a weakness in the Qod Force covert warfare capabilities of Iran’s IRGC? They have not provided fool proof security to nuclear scientists and engineers critical to achievement of a domestically produced nuclear weapon. Second, as shown in the Time.com analysis, it would appear that foreign intelligence covert services have access to a pool of recruits within the Islamic Republic who are disaffected yet trustworthy enough to be trained in secure third countries to undertake these assassinations. Realize that the most recent assassination involved several motor bike teams in the magnetic bomb attack. Third is whether Israel is conducting its own covert effort. Israel has one of the most-listened to Farsi language radio services and a pool of former intelligence and senior IDF personnel, drawn from Israel’s Iranian Jewish community.
While the IRGC Commander in Tehran can threaten conducting a “tit for tat” revenge campaign against suspected Western intelligence services, so far they have not succeeded. It should not be forgotten that the Mullahs were outraged last year to discover via a Google Earth satellite image a Jewish six pointed star emblazoned on the roof of a building in downtown Tehran. It had been built by an Israeli company during the late Shah’s reign. They quickly removed it.
The West ought to be grateful that Israel may be motivated to undertake these dirty jobs in this latest phase of the four decade long secret war with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Just to stir the pot, in e-mails or on Facebook, when the story involves Iran, I refer to the Gulf as the Arabian Gulf. When it involves the Saudis, I refer to it as the Persian Gulf. I always get some interesting comments.