Mourners carry a flag-draped coffin of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, the Iranian scientist assassinated last week (Photo: Mehdi Ghasemi / Iranian Students News Agency)
Reports that the Israeli Mossad were behind the recent assassination of an Iranian scientist continue to be published. Israeli media today is full of articles summarizing a Sunday Times (UK) report that gave details of the Mossad operation in Tehran.
The Sunday Times report follows a TIME magazine article, based on unnamed sources, that also says Israeli intelligence was behind the hit.
These reports, coupled with Mark Perry’s bombshell, deal a blow to one of Israel’s core arguments against Iran: that it is a state-sponsor of terrorism whose pursuit of nuclear weapons could embolden “militant Islam” to undertake global aggression.
But while we hope for the best and while we work for the best, we must also recognize that powerful forces oppose this future. They oppose modernity. They oppose democracy. They oppose peace.
Foremost among these forces is Iran. The tyranny in Tehran brutalizes its own people. It supports attacks against Americans troops in Afghanistan and in Iraq. It subjugates Lebanon and Gaza. It sponsors terror worldwide.
When I last stood here, I spoke of the consequences of Iran developing nuclear weapons. Now time is running out. The hinge of history may soon turn, for the greatest danger of all could soon be upon us: a militant Islamic regime armed with nuclear weapons.
Militant Islam threatens the world. It threatens Islam.
…like other fanatacisms that were doomed to fail, militant Islam could exact an horrific price from all of us before its eventual demise.
A nuclear-armed Iran would ignite a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. It would give terrorists a nuclear umbrella. It would make the nightmare of nuclear terrorism a clear and present danger throughout the world.
Now, Israel itself stands accused of an act that former CIA officer Paul Pillar calls “international terrorism.” And Perry’s report that Mossad agents cultivated Jundallah, a militant Islamist organization in Pakistan, to carry out a covert war on Iran makes Israel’s cries about “militant Islam” ring hollow.
The killing of an individual foreigner overseas, if carried out for a political or policy purpose by either a nonstate actor or clandestine agents of a state, is an act of international terrorism. At least that is how U.S. law defines it, for purposes such as the State Department’s annual reports on terrorism. This form of terrorism is part of what put Iran on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Through the 1980s and into the 1990s, the Iranian regime perpetrated numerous assassinations of exiled Iranian political dissidents, in Europe as well as in other countries of southwest Asia. The Iranians effectively ended this assassination campaign about a decade and a half ago, largely to improve relations with the European countries on whose soil many of the assassinations occurred and perhaps also because by then Iran had bumped off nearly all of the people on its hit list. We should assume, however, that Iran retains the capability to assassinate far-flung targets again, and that it would consider doing so if searching for ways to strike back at adversaries that are striking it.
Iran itself has been a victim of this form of terrorist violence. This has included some instances, such as the killing of Iranian diplomats in Afghanistan, in which Iranian interests have paralleled those of the United States. It has included during the past two years the killing in Iran of several nuclear scientists, the most recent of whom died this week from an explosive placed on his vehicle. Actions are more important than nomenclature, so if you prefer not to apply the T-word to these killings then just imagine what the reaction would be if something similar were occurring in the United States. Imagine the response if even just one scientist (let alone four or five) who was employed, say, at one of the U.S. national laboratories had been been similarly assassinated and a foreign hand was suspected. There would be screams of “act of war” and the U.S. president would be hard-pressed to hold back impulses to strike back forcefully. Now put yourselves in the Iranians’ place. Not only do they face the serial assassination of their scientists, but they face it amid an environment filled with numerous other indications of foreign hostility, including the economic warfare, the saber rattling and the contest among American politicians to see who can shoot the most rhetorical venom at Iran. From this perspective, aptly described by Vali Nasr, it should hardly be surprising if Iran strikes back while it sees more reason than ever before to develop a nuclear weapon in the hope of deterring U.S.-led aggressiveness.
Who’s the terror-sponsor now?