Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iranian nuclear weapons

Iran Admits Targeting Nuclear Scientists Takes a Toll

Even before news of the latest assassination, it has become clear that a combination of sanctions and targeted assassinations is taking a toll on Iranian nuclear scientists. As my colleague Ali Alfoneh pointed out in his “Iran News Round Up” from this past Monday:

Fereydoun Abbasi, Iran Atomic Energy Organization director, said a number of Iranian nuclear scientists are not willing to contribute to Iran’s nuclear program. According to Abbasi, the scientists are eager to “preserve their international contacts.” He likened them, however, to “deserters” during the Iran-Iraq.

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Even before news of the latest assassination, it has become clear that a combination of sanctions and targeted assassinations is taking a toll on Iranian nuclear scientists. As my colleague Ali Alfoneh pointed out in his “Iran News Round Up” from this past Monday:

Fereydoun Abbasi, Iran Atomic Energy Organization director, said a number of Iranian nuclear scientists are not willing to contribute to Iran’s nuclear program. According to Abbasi, the scientists are eager to “preserve their international contacts.” He likened them, however, to “deserters” during the Iran-Iraq.

The latest assassination suggests, however, that preservation of their relationship with foreign scientists is probably not top among the Iranian nuclear scientists’ concerns. Indeed, Abbasi probably understood that, but cannot admit it so directly.

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Iranian Press on Iranian Scientist Death

While news is still coming out of Tehran, my colleague Ali Alfoneh has been culling the Iranian websites today and helped compile the following:

Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, Natanz Nuclear Site commerce director, was assassinated at 08:30 am local time in Tehran. According to Fars News, a motorcyclist attached a magnet bomb to Roshan’s car. The blast killed Roshan and wounded two passengers in the car.  A photo essay from the site of the explosion is here, and a photograph purporting to show Roshan after the bombing is here.

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While news is still coming out of Tehran, my colleague Ali Alfoneh has been culling the Iranian websites today and helped compile the following:

Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, Natanz Nuclear Site commerce director, was assassinated at 08:30 am local time in Tehran. According to Fars News, a motorcyclist attached a magnet bomb to Roshan’s car. The blast killed Roshan and wounded two passengers in the car.  A photo essay from the site of the explosion is here, and a photograph purporting to show Roshan after the bombing is here.

Nasim Online points out that Roshan was assassinated on the second anniversary of the assassination of Masoud Ali Mohammadi, another nuclear scientist.

Who was Roshan? Sharif University of Technology says that Roshan had a degree in chemical engineering from the university. Alef News has released the titles of academic articles he had published (scroll down for English).

Who was behind it? Well, the Iranian government has never let an investigation get in the way of a good conspiracy. First Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi accuses “the Zionist regime,” while Safar Ali Baratlou, Tehran Province Security chief, says “it is the work of the Zionists… It seems like the Zionists are trying to reduce public participation in [forthcoming parliamentary] elections….” Parliamentarians have condemned the assassination by chanting “Death to America,” “Death to Israel,” and “Death to the Hypocrites,” the latter usually being code for the Mujahedin al-Khalq.

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Another Iranian Scientist Assassinated

According to press reports, another Iranian nuclear scientist was killed in a bomb attack:

The bomb assassination of an Iranian atomic scientist on Wednesday will not stop “progress” in Iran’s nuclear programme, Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi told state television. “Today (Wednesday) those who claim to be combatting terrorism have targeted Iranian scientists. They should know that Iranian scientists are more determined than ever in striding towards Iran’s progress,” he said. He called Wednesday’s killing of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a deputy director of Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility, “evidence of (foreign) government-sponsored terrorism.”

Sometimes, assassination can forestall far bloodier conflict. As for Roshan, good riddance.

According to press reports, another Iranian nuclear scientist was killed in a bomb attack:

The bomb assassination of an Iranian atomic scientist on Wednesday will not stop “progress” in Iran’s nuclear programme, Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi told state television. “Today (Wednesday) those who claim to be combatting terrorism have targeted Iranian scientists. They should know that Iranian scientists are more determined than ever in striding towards Iran’s progress,” he said. He called Wednesday’s killing of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a deputy director of Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility, “evidence of (foreign) government-sponsored terrorism.”

Sometimes, assassination can forestall far bloodier conflict. As for Roshan, good riddance.

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Iranian Nukes? Cue the Laugh Track in Caracas

The friendly relationship between the dictatorial regimes in Iran and Venezuela has long troubled the United States, but the latest expression of this bizarre alliance has implications for Washington’s efforts to isolate Tehran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in Caracas this week for another love fest with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. The highlight of their exchange was when Chavez referred to a grassy knoll in front of his palace. “That hill will open up and a big atomic bomb will come out,” said Chavez as the two authoritarians laughed about the big joke.

Iran’s nuclear ambitions are no laughing matter for those who fear the Islamist regime being able to put a nuclear umbrella over its terrorist allies Hezbollah and Hamas or being able to threaten Israel with extinction. But the importance of Chavez to Iran is not his ability to provide them with moral support. The only real lever short of the use of force for the West to stop Iran’s nuclear program is an oil embargo. This week’s visit to South America is a reminder that Tehran has allies, including oil producers like Venezuela who may be willing to help them in the event President Obama finds the will to try to enforce a tough sanctions policy.

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The friendly relationship between the dictatorial regimes in Iran and Venezuela has long troubled the United States, but the latest expression of this bizarre alliance has implications for Washington’s efforts to isolate Tehran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in Caracas this week for another love fest with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. The highlight of their exchange was when Chavez referred to a grassy knoll in front of his palace. “That hill will open up and a big atomic bomb will come out,” said Chavez as the two authoritarians laughed about the big joke.

Iran’s nuclear ambitions are no laughing matter for those who fear the Islamist regime being able to put a nuclear umbrella over its terrorist allies Hezbollah and Hamas or being able to threaten Israel with extinction. But the importance of Chavez to Iran is not his ability to provide them with moral support. The only real lever short of the use of force for the West to stop Iran’s nuclear program is an oil embargo. This week’s visit to South America is a reminder that Tehran has allies, including oil producers like Venezuela who may be willing to help them in the event President Obama finds the will to try to enforce a tough sanctions policy.

Ahmadinejad will also be visiting Cuba, Nicaragua and Ecuador, but Venezuela is the key to Iran’s effort to find friends in the Western Hemisphere. Along with friendly nations like Turkey, Venezuela can help Iran evade Western sanctions and may exercise enough economic muscle to ameliorate the effects of an embargo.

But the one piece of good news for the West is the absence of Brazil from Ahmadinejad’s itinerary. The Holocaust-denying Iranian got a good reception there during his last trip to the continent, and the failure of the Iranians to secure another visit may reflect a limited diplomatic victory for the United States. It may also show that for all of its usual willingness to jeer at Washington, Brazil has no appetite for a confrontation, especially with Iran threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz and shut off all oil exports from the Persian Gulf.

This should be a signal to President Obama that, Venezuelan jokes notwithstanding, he will be backed, or at least not actively opposed, by much of the Third World should he decide to impose an oil embargo on Iran. The Iranians are counting on their ability to make friends abroad and Obama’s demonstrated predilection for delay to give them another year or two to complete their nuclear plans. With Iran already enriching uranium in its new mountain bunker at Fordow, time is running out for the West to act.

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Poll: Americans Fear Obama Reelection More than Iranian Nukes

This poll was conducted by Synovate eNation on behalf of US News and World Report’s Washington Whispers, which seems…questionable. But it has received a lot of attention from bloggers today, mainly for the finding that Americans fear Obama’s reelection by a 2:1 ratio.

In our New Year’s poll, when asked what news event they fear most about 2012, Americans by a margin of two-to-one said Obama’s reelection. Only 16 percent said they fear the Democrat won’t win a second term, while 33 percent said they fear four more years. …

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This poll was conducted by Synovate eNation on behalf of US News and World Report’s Washington Whispers, which seems…questionable. But it has received a lot of attention from bloggers today, mainly for the finding that Americans fear Obama’s reelection by a 2:1 ratio.

In our New Year’s poll, when asked what news event they fear most about 2012, Americans by a margin of two-to-one said Obama’s reelection. Only 16 percent said they fear the Democrat won’t win a second term, while 33 percent said they fear four more years. …

As we enter the presidential election year of 2012, what potential news event do you fear the most?

President Obama wins reelection–33%

Taxes will increase–31%

Iran will get a nuclear weapon–16%

Obama will lose reelection–16%

North Korea will attack South Korea–4%

To be fair, the question is pretty ambiguous. Does “fear” mean the event that respondents find the most frightening, or does it mean an unwelcome event they’re most worried will actually happen over the next year? Maybe the poll just shows that Obama supporters think he has his reelection in the bag, and aren’t as concerned about the possibility of him losing.

At the same time, the top three fears don’t seem to be a good sign for Obama. Republicans have been campaigning against Obama’s tax increase proposals and his weakness on Iran, so the fact that a whopping 80 percent say those issues are their biggest fears in 2012 doesn’t bode well for him.

This list does have some major omissions, though – no fear of the deficit? No fear of rising unemployment? – so it may not be useful for much more than entertainment value.

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A Powerful Case for Force Against Iran

The Obama administration seems to be enjoying some success in getting European states to embargo Iranian oil. That’s good news. The question, however, is whether this latest round of sanctions will convince Iran to do what previous sanctions have not done–i.e., convince it to forego nuclear weapons. I hope so, but hope isn’t a policy, and there is good reason for skepticism.

In the first place, Iran will be able to sell its oil in Asia, to China, India, and even to U.S. allies such as Japan and South Korea. It may lose some money in the bargain, but it seems doubtful the loss of some oil revenue will be enough to dissuade the clerical regime from what it seems to view as a national, indeed religious, obligation. The mullahs know the Iranian Revolution will be far more secure–less prone to attack, more able to attack with impunity–if it has nukes, and past conduct indicates that it will not stop until it has them.

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The Obama administration seems to be enjoying some success in getting European states to embargo Iranian oil. That’s good news. The question, however, is whether this latest round of sanctions will convince Iran to do what previous sanctions have not done–i.e., convince it to forego nuclear weapons. I hope so, but hope isn’t a policy, and there is good reason for skepticism.

In the first place, Iran will be able to sell its oil in Asia, to China, India, and even to U.S. allies such as Japan and South Korea. It may lose some money in the bargain, but it seems doubtful the loss of some oil revenue will be enough to dissuade the clerical regime from what it seems to view as a national, indeed religious, obligation. The mullahs know the Iranian Revolution will be far more secure–less prone to attack, more able to attack with impunity–if it has nukes, and past conduct indicates that it will not stop until it has them.

If the U.S. is truly determined to prevent that from occurring–and if we’re not, we should be–the most effective option is to use force. Obviously, air strikes carry risks of their own, but those risks have to be measured against the risk of letting Iran go nuclear. In the pages of the latest Foreign Affairs, Matthew Kroening, a former staffer at the Department of Defense who is now a colleague of mine at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues the case for air strikes. In the process, he knocks down pretty much all of the objections that have been made against them. That doesn’t mean we have to strike tomorrow; there is still time for sanctions to work–but not much time. As Kroening notes:

Years of international pressure have failed to halt Iran’s attempt to build a nuclear program. The Stuxnet computer worm, which attacked control systems in Iranian nuclear facilities, temporarily disrupted Tehran’s enrichment effort, but a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency this past May revealed that the targeted plants have fully recovered from the assault. And the latest IAEA findings on Iran, released in November, provided the most compelling evidence yet that the Islamic Republic has weathered sanctions and sabotage, allegedly testing nuclear triggering devices and redesigning its missiles to carry nuclear payloads. The Institute for Science and International Security, a nonprofit research institution, estimates that Iran could now produce its first nuclear weapon within six months of deciding to do so. Tehran’s plans to move sensitive nuclear operations into more secure facilities over the course of the coming year could reduce the window for effective military action even further.

As a result of the growing danger, Iran is getting closer to what should be “redlines.” Writes Kroening: “If Iran expels IAEA inspectors, begins enriching its stockpiles of uranium to weapons-grade levels of 90 percent, or installs advanced centrifuges at its uranium-enrichment facility in Qom, the United States must strike immediately or forfeit its last opportunity to prevent Iran from joining the nuclear club.”

This is the second powerful and sober article in favor of bombing Iran that Foreign Affairs (hardly a journal known for warmongering) has run. The first appeared a year ago and was written by Eric S. Edelman, Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr, and Evan Braden Montgomery. Together, these two articles present a powerful case for military action. I have yet to see (have I missed it?) an equally detailed and convincing exposition of the anti-bombing side.

 

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