Analysis: Death of Iranian nuclear scientist will be costly

By Meir Javedanfar, January 14, 2010
Follow The JC on Twitter
Iranian fire-fighters wash the ground outside the home of Masoud Ali Mohammadi, a nuclear physics professor who was killed by a remote-controlled  motorcycle bomb in north Tehran on Tuesday

Iranian fire-fighters wash the ground outside the home of Masoud Ali Mohammadi, a nuclear physics professor who was killed by a remote-controlled motorcycle bomb in north Tehran on Tuesday

The assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Masoud Ali Mohammadi, who was killed on Tuesday when a motorcycle bomb was detonated outside his home, does not bode well for the Iranian government.

If his assassins were from foreign intelligence agencies or opposition groups, it would mean that the security of Iran’s nuclear programme has been seriously compromised — so much so that foreign operatives feel confident enough to eliminate their targets in broad daylight.

If he was assassinated by his own regime, due to his support for the reformist camp, then Ayatollah Khamenei has scored a huge own-goal. The killing of a senior scientist this way will strike fear in the hearts of the nuclear programme’s other employees. They will now live in fear for their lives, with major consequences.

People may now want to defect to escape their difficult circumstances. It could also deter young Iranians from joining the nuclear programme. After all, which brilliant young scientist would want to live in constant fear of Iran’s own intelligence agency, as well its foreign counterparts?

The alternative option of moving to Canada or to the UAE, where you can be paid well without having to worry for your physical wellbeing, will seem much more attractive.

As usual, Israel is pointed to as the primary suspect. In an extensive article, Tabnak news agency, which is the most popular semi-official internet-based news agency in Iran, provided a list of reasons why the assassination was the work of the Mossad.

These include previous assassinations of Egyptian nuclear scientists in Europe, which were mentioned in the former Mossad spy Victor Ostrovsky’s book By Way of Deception.

Other “proofs” in the Tabnak piece include Israel’s attacks against the Iraqi reactor and the alleged Israeli attack against the Syrian reactor last year.

For now, it will be difficult to ascertain who was really behind the attack. However, it is unlikely that it was an inside job by the regime. Had it wanted to, Iran’s intelligence agency could have just arrested Mr Mohammadi, tried him in public and made an example of him. To eliminate him this way makes the regime look weak, both at home and abroad.

This is the exact opposite of what Ayatollah Khamenei now needs, when the legitimacy of his regime is under severe attack, at home and abroad.

The current loss of legitimacy is bound to affect the nuclear programme, as more nuclear scientists and members of the public begin to view it as a “Khamenei and Ahmadinejad” project rather than a nationalistic “Iranian” project.

The people of Iran want their country to have a nuclear bomb, for defensive purposes. They want to live free of fear of weapons of mass destruction, such as those used against them by Saddam in the mid-1980s.

Ahmadinejad and Khamenei want the bomb to threaten Israel and to isolate Iran. Their hope is that such isolation will allow them to rule the country by fear and intimidation.

As the Soviet example showed, once a regime loses legitimacy, not even nuclear bombs can come to its rescue.Should Iran’s current leadership continue to ignore its public, the Islamic Republic could find itself facing the same fate as the Soviet Communist system.

Meir Javedanfar is an Iranian-Israeli political analyst

    Last updated: 2:04pm, January 15 2010