A professor in Denver has suggested that Israeli intelligence agents from Mossad may be behind the attack on Sir Salman Rushdie in New York earlier this month.
Nader Hashemi, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, theorised in a podcast that a Mossad agent may have persuaded suspect Hadi Matar, 24, to carry out the stabbing.
The author was repeatedly stabbed by his attacker in the moments before he had been due to deliver an address at the Chautauqua Institution in New York.
Doctors fear Mr Rushdie may lose an eye as a result of the attack, which has also left him with damage to his liver and the nerves in one of his arms.
Prof Hashemi, speaking on The Iran Podcast hosted by Negar Mortazavi on 20 August, said Matar may have been “in communication with someone online who claimed to be an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRCG) supporter and lured him into attacking Salman Rushdie”.
The associate professor further argued that this “so-called person online claiming to be affiliated with the Islamic Republic of Iran could have been a Mossad operative”.
He appeared to suggest that Israel may have been behind the attack due to its government’s opposition to the Iran Nuclear Deal, continuing: “Israel has taken a very strong position against reviving the Iran nuclear agreement. We were in very sensitive negotiations. It looked like an agreement was imminent and then the attack on Salman Rushdie takes place.
“I think that’s one possible interpretation and scenario that could explain the timing of this.”
Prof Hashemi also suggested that Matar might have been radicalised by an IRCG supporter, or that he could have self-radicalised online.
Prof Hashemi has previously faced criticism for suggesting that Hamas has become more moderate, stating in 2015 that there had been “significant attempts by the leadership of Hamas to strike out and to present a more moderate face with respect to a political resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict”.
Between 2000 and Prof Hashemi’s speech in late 2015, Hamas was responsible for at least 37 suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. The Gaza-based militant group was also behind thousands of rocket attacks targeting Israeli civilians.
Prof Hashemi also has a record of downplaying extreme anti-Israel comments made by Iranian officials, arguing back in 2005 that then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s demand that Israel "be wiped off the map" was rooted “not in ancient ethnic hatreds or Muslim antisemitism, but primarily in the trauma and enduring legacy of European colonialism and Israel's perceived connection with this legacy”.
Prof Hashemi told the JC: “During the podcast I (also) suggest another possibility is direct IRGC involvement.
“I also believe there could have been no IRGC or /Mossad involvement and Hadi Matar was self-radicalised online.
“The comments on Hamas and Ahmadinejad attributed to me are a gross distortion of my views on both topics. These are cherry-picked quotes by people that oppose my politics, especially in the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict. For those who are interested in what I actually said, I encourage them to listen to my lecture on Hamas and read my article on Ahmadinejad/Israel in the Globe and Mail.
“For the record, I have always maintained an uncompromising belief in equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians and a firm rejection of the politics of ethno-religious supremacy. Can my critics make the same claim?”
A spokesperson from the University of Denver told the JC: “Professor Hashemi spoke as an individual faculty member and does not speak for the University. At DU, we respect academic freedom and freedom of speech, which Dr. Hashemi enjoys. However, and to be clear, his views do not represent views of the University.”
Matar, a US citizen born to Lebanese immigrant parents, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of second-degree attempted murder and assault.
In an interview with the New York Post from jail, Mr Matar said Sir Salman was "someone who attacked Islam".
But he did not confirm that his alleged actions were driven by a fatwa issued by Iran in the 1980s.
In a court appearance on Thursday, 18 August,, a judge ordered Mr Matar be held without bail at Chautauqua County Jail.