The Iranian nuclear weapons program suffered another setback when two Iranian scientists became the targets of assassination. One, Majid Shahriari, was killed, and the other, Fereidoun Abbasi, was injured along with his wife.
According to AP:
“Assailants on motorcycles attached magnetized bombs to the cars of two nuclear scientists as they were driving to work in Tehran on Monday, killing one and wounding the other, Iranian officials said. The president accused Israel and the West of being behind the attacks.
“Iran’s nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, said the man killed was involved in a major project with the country’s nuclear agency, though he did not give specifics. Some Iranian media reported that the wounded scientist was a laser expert at Iran’s Defense Ministry and one of the country’s few top specialists in nuclear isotope separation.”
Roger Simon, at Pajamas Media, is suggesting Majid Shahriari was involved in attempting to purge computer systems of the Stuxnet computer virus which has crippled operations at the nuclear weapons development facility in Iran. If that is the case, the Iranian nuclear bomb program has suffered a serious setback indeed.
The Iranian government is blaming the West in general and the Israelis in particular for the attacks on the scientists. Israel has declined to comment, but attacks on scientists working for unfriendly countries has a precedence and suggests that the MO for the hits on the Iranian scientists point to Israel as the instigator.
In the early 1960s, the Egyptian government was pursuing a ballistic missile program designed to launch either biological or radiological (i.e. dirty bombs) against the State of Israel with the help of German scientists. According to “Nasser and the Missile Age in the Middle East” by Owen L. Sirrs, the Mossad conducted a campaign of assassination, kidnapping, and intimidation to discourage the German scientists from aiding Egypt in this endeavor. This operation created diplomatic strains between Israel and the then-West German government, but eventually the West Germans were pressured to recall the scientists from Egypt.
Israel does not have to worry about a diplomatic riff with Iran; the Islamic Republic is, after all, pledged to the annihilation to the Jewish state. But the message delivered to the Iranian scientific community is clear. Working on the nuclear weapons program will be hazardous to one’s health. Oddly enough, this is a message that is being confirmed by the government itself by loudly blaming Israel for the assassination attempts.
Going forward, the country’s nuclear weapons development program has some rather formidable obstacles to overcome. The security of the program has clearly been compromised, with the Stuxnet computer worm and now the hits on two of its leading scientists undertaken. The Iranians will undoubtedly attempt to clamp down on security, but that in and of itself will having a hampering effect on the program. There is a natural tension between the need for security and the need for a free exchange of ideas and flow of information.
That tension was actually felt during the original Manhattan Project that developed the first atomic bomb, and was resolved by an informal agreement between the project’s military director, General Leslie Groves, and its chief scientist, Robert Oppenheimer. Whether the Iranians can resolve that problem while under pressure by the Israelis-or whomever-is open to question.
Sources: Iran blames Israel, West after bombers kill Iranian nuclear scientist, Ali Akbar Dareini, AP, November 29th, 2010
Death in Teheran: Stuxnet Continued, Roger Simon, Pajamas Media, November 29th, 2010
Stuxnet Computer Virus Designed to Sabatoge Iranian Nuclear Centifuges, Mark R. Whittington, Associated Content, November 19th, 2010
Nasser and the Missile Age in the Middle East , Owen L. Sirrs, Routledge, 2006