Is Iran Behind the Deaths of its own Scientists?

February 19, 2012 by Emanuele Ottolenghi
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The way attacks were conducted against the car of an Israeli diplomat’s wife in Delhi has contributed to an interesting, if disconcerting theory among pundits…writes Emanuele Ottolenghi.

Emanuele Ottolenghi

Iran’s wave of attacks against Israeli targets is tit-for-tat against what are presumed to be Israeli-sponsored assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists inside Iran. Ian Black in the Guardian, for example,wrote this  two days ago that:

“The use in Delhi of a sticky bomb attached to an Israeli embassy vehicle by a man riding a motorbike seemed to mimic the modus operandi used by Israel’s agents in Tehran. Hints, surely, do not come much heavier than that?”

Black also refers to the Newsweek report that Michael Rubin and Jonathan Tobin also discussed, which suggested that Israel may be conducting false flag operations inside Iran by relying on the much-despised Mujahedin al-Khalq opposition group.

In short, the inference is that Israel had it coming and the Iranian intelligence operatives involved have a well-developed sense of humor, if they chose to use the same method Israeli proxies relied upon to kill Iranian scientists.

The likelihood of Israel conducting such operations inside Iran is, in fact, quite low. Israel has not had an intelligence presence inside Iran since 1979. Running an intelligence operation that can track down scientists in heavy morning traffic and disappear without a trace requires vast human resources. And Israelis, quite simply put, do not run false flag operations.

Israel may have an interest in killing Iranian scientists – although Israel is not alone in that. But responsibility is also a matter of capabilities, not just presumed intentions.

Presuming Iranian responsibility for the Delhi, as well as the Tbilisi and Bangkok hits earlier this week, what then can we conclude about the use of the same technique – a magnet bomb stuck on the car by a passing motorcycle?

As Potkin Azarmehr, a brilliant Iranian blogger and journalist based in the UK suggests the hand behind the assassinations in Iran may just as likely be the regime’s.

Potkin reviews the four hits and offers some useful insights on why the four individuals were unlikely to be targets for Israel but may have been likely targets for the regime:


1. Professor Ali Mohammadi, killed in front of his home by a booby-trapped motorcycle parked outside, was a public supporter of the Green Movement and a member of a regional science project to which Israeli scientists also participated. He taught quantum physics: “It stretches the imagination to assume the Islamic Republic of Iran would include one of its key nuclear weapon/power scientists, who could be a possible target for assassination by Western agencies, on this SESAME project, where he would regularly meet in conferences with colleagues from other countries, including Israel.” An assassin, Jamal Fash, was paraded on TV, but the “TV confessions of Jamali Fash were full of contradictions and it later emerged that he was an ardent pro-Ahmadinejad devotee and a kickboxer member of the national team.”

2. Professor Majid Shahriari, killed on November 29, 2010, was a member of the same regional project alongside Ali Mohammadi. Potkin notes that “There was no appeal made by the state for the public to come forward as witnesses and until now no one has been arrested or charged with his murder. I have come across one eyewitness myself however. A former employee of the interior ministry, who saw the whole thing and told me it bore all the hallmarks of an Iranian regime hit squad.”

3. Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani survived an attempt a few minutes after Shahriari was killed and was later appointed as head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. This guy was clearly linked to the program but, as Potkin helpfully notes, “Footage of Abbassi Davani’s car shown afterwards, show a few bullet holes on the bonnet and windscreen and unlike Shahriari’s car, his car was not blown up. If these assassinations were the work of highly sophisticated Western/Israeli sent hit squads, how is it that a theoretical research physicist not on the sanctions list is eliminated so efficiently but the more obvious target who is clearly connected to the nuclear program and is on the sanctions list, is not even hurt?”

4. Dariush Rezaei Nejad was murdered as he waited for his daughter at kindergarten on July 23, 2011. He is the namesake of a nuclear scientist, but he himself was an electrical engineering master student. His Wikipedia entry tells us that “At the time of his killing he was described by officials as a ‘nuclear scientist’ and an academic associated with Iran’s atomic activities, but days later as a postgraduate electrical engineering masters student at Tehran’s K.N.Toosi University of Technology, who was waiting to defend his thesis.” Potkin weighed in on this by adding that “He even had a Facebook page and on his Facebook page, he had included the dissident Iranian singer, Shajarian, as one of his favorites. It is unthinkable that an Iranian scientist connected with Iran’s nuclear program would have a Facebook page which shared his friends and family and their photos.”

It is, of course, just a theory – although information extracted from the Iranian suspects arrested in Bangkok and Delhi may offer additional insights.

But killing its own expendable ordinary citizens – especially if they belong to the opposition or see no evil in participating in joint research projects with Israeli scientists – is in keeping with the Iranian regime’s moral standards. And given the similarity of the technique used, I at least am inclined to believe Iran had a hand in killing its own people and then spinning the murders for its propaganda war with the West.

This article first published in Commentary magazine.

Emanuele Ottolenghi is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the author of Pasdaran: Inside Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards’ Corps (FDD Press, September 2011)


4 Responses to “Is Iran Behind the Deaths of its own Scientists?”
  1. Otto Waldmann says:

    From an incurably erratic Ben,bent in more ways than one on regurgitating deranged “theories” to a Larry Stillman who, likewise, rides on the spiky back of the stray dogs of irrational wilderness ,we hear that the Government of Iran might as well be the holly fountain of love, wisdom and peaceful humanity.

    Whether the killings of Iranian scientists was the work of the Iranian secret services or any other source, the obvious intent of the Iranian leaders to attack Israel is all that matters !
    While we are debating side issues, Iran is working asiduously at putting into practice an aggressive programme consistent with every sylable of their criminal anti Israel rhetoric.

  2. Larry Stillman says:

    As idiotic as the claims made by Iranians that Israelis were responsible for attacks on other Israelis in India, Georgia and Thailand.

  3. Mike says:

    Bob, this is a Jewish news site, what did you expect? not that Al Jazeera is unbiased, but their sources usually haven’t “expertise” on Islamophobia (or the equivalent to antisemitism, as does Mr. Ottolenghi)

  4. Ben says:

    How quick to pint fingers at Iran and equally quick to deny Israel’s culpability in killings. Iran had even summoned the ambassador of a neighbouring country for it reported role in supporting Israeli killings and bombings. All that the writer has about the attacks in Delhi are presumptions of Iran’s role. But what is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander.

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