Assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists

Four Iranian nuclear scientists—Masoud Alimohammadi, Majid Shahriari, Darioush Rezaeinejad and Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan—were assassinated between 2010 and 2012, and one further scientist wounded in an attempted assassination.[1][2] Two of the killings were carried out using magnetic bombs attached to the targets' cars; Darioush Rezaeinejad was shot dead; and Masoud Alimohammadi was killed in a motorcycle bomb explosion.[3] The Iranian government accused Israel of being behind the killings.[3][4] In 201112, the Iranian authorities arrested a number of Iranians it said had carried out the assassination campaign on behalf of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service. Western intelligence services and U.S officials are said to have confirmed the Israeli connection.[5][6][7][8] In June 2012, the Iranian government stated that it was confident it had arrested all the assassins.[4]

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement, but Moshe Ya'alon, the Israeli defence minister, stated, "We will act in any way and are not willing to tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran. We prefer that this be done by means of sanctions, but in the end, Israel should be able to defend itself."[9] The assassination campaign was reportedly terminated in 2013 following diplomatic pressure from the United States, which was at the time attempting to negotiate with Iran on restrictions to its nuclear activities.[10][11]

According to private American intelligence firm Stratfor, a fifth Iranian scientist was poisoned by Mossad in 2007.[12][13] However, in 2014, the sister of the deceased accused the Iranian government itself of being behind her brother's killing.[14]

In January 2015, the Iranian authorities claimed to have thwarted a further attempt by Mossad to assassinate an Iranian nuclear scientist.[4]

Timeline of incidents


While the assassinations were taking place, there was some speculation about the identity of those behind the killings. Though Israel's intelligence service Mossad was seen as the most likely candidate, other parties mentioned as possible instigators or participants included Iranian opposition groups such as the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), intelligence operatives from Arab countries opposed to the Iranian regime, or the United States.[6][14][17][18]

The Iranian regime itself blamed both Israel and the United States for the assassinations.[3] Hillary Clinton, at the time the American Secretary of State, categorically denied any U.S. role in the killings, a denial deemed "plausible" by commentators given the reported lack of U.S. intelligence assets within Iran.[18] Israel neither confirmed nor denied a role in the killings.[10][11]

In early 2011, a young Iranian named Majid Fashi confessed on Iranian state television to the killing of Masoud Alimohammadi, saying that he had trained for the operation at a Mossad facility near Tel Aviv. Fashi was executed in May 2012. The same month, Iranian authorities announced the arrest of another 14 Iranianseight men and six womenwhom they described as a terror cell trained by Israel and responsible for carrying out five of the attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists.[5] Iran’s IRTV Channel 1 showed a half-hour documentary entitled Terror Club featuring "the televised confessions of the 12 suspects allegedly involved in the killings of Ali-Mohammadi, Shahriari, Rezaeinejad, and Roshan, and the attempted killing of Abbasi."[3][19][20] According to Time magazine, Western intelligence officials confirmed the cracking of two Mossad-backed espionage rings by Iranian intelligence.[5] Officials within the Obama administration also reportedly confirmed Israeli involvement.[6][7] According to Dan Raviv, Mossad officials were "pissed off and shocked" to see their intelligence assets paraded on Iranian television.[8] After the arrests, Iran said it was confident it had arrested all those responsible for the attacks.[4] Time states that Iran attempted in 2012 to retaliate against Israel for the assassinations by launching up to 20 hastily-organized attacks on Israeli diplomatic missions around the world, none of which were successful.[5]

While Israel has never publicly confirmed or denied responsibility for the assassinations, Israeli officials have expressed a readiness to employ all necessary means in Israel's defence.[4][21] Israeli defence minister Moshe Ya'alon stated in an interview with Germany's Der Spiegel, "Ultimately it is very clear, one way or another, Iran's military nuclear programme must be stopped ... We will act in any way and are not willing to tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran. We prefer that this be done by means of sanctions, but in the end, Israel should be able to defend itself ... I’m not responsible for the lives of Iranian scientists."[9]

Israel has a history of targeting scientists working for hostile regimes on technologies capable of being weaponized. In the 1960s, in Operation Damocles, Shin Bet sent parcel bombs to ex-Nazi rocket scientists working for Egyptian President Nasser.[13] Israel is also "widely believed" to have been behind the killing of scientists working for Saddam Hussein in the 1980s[13] and 1990s.[18]

The assassination campaign against Iranian nuclear scientists was reportedly terminated in 2013, following pressure on Israel from the Obama administration to end the attacks while negotiations with Iran aimed at restricting its nuclear program continued.[8][10][11] Mossad officials are also said to have concluded that the attacks were "too dangerous" for their valuable intelligence operatives within Iran.[8] Mossad has since reportedly instructed its Iranian spy network to concentrate on finding evidence of Iranian breaches of its agreements to restrict its nuclear activities.[8]

In January 2015, Iranian authorities claimed to have thwarted a further attempt by Mossad to assassinate an Iranian nuclear scientist.[4]

Ardeshir Hosseinpour

While Israel is thought to have been responsible for the assassination campaign against Iranian nuclear scientists carried out between 2010 and 2012, continuing uncertainty surrounds the 2007 death of Iranian scientist Ardeshir Hosseinpour. Hosseinpour was reported by Iranian authorities to have died from gas inhalation caused by a faulty heater,[12] but a six-day delay in the announcement raised suspicions outside Iran. The American private intelligence firm Stratfor asserted that Hosseinpour had been assassinated by Mossad by means of radiation poisoning, but Iranian officials denied this, declaring their scientists to be "safe".[12] In 2014, Hosseinpour's sister Mahboobeh accused the Iranian Revolutionary Guard of killing her brother for allegedly refusing to work on Iran's nuclear enrichment program. Mahboobeh said the information came from Ardeshir's widow.[15][16][22][23][24]


The United States government condemned the assassinations, though without implicating any party.[14] Some American politicians however, took a different view. Former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich endorsed the idea of "taking out [Iranian] scientists", while Presidential candidate Rick Santorum described the scientists' killings as "a wonderful thing".[14]

General Yoav Mordechai, spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, said he had "no idea who targeted the Iranian scientist but I certainly don't shed a tear."[14]

Writing in The Guardian, Mehdi Hasan said of the killings: "These 'men on motorbikes' have been described as 'assassins'. But assassination is just a more polite word for murder. ... how many more of our values will we shred in the name of security? Once we have allowed our governments to order the killing of ... fellow human beings, in secret, without oversight or accountability, what other powers will we dare deny them?"[1]

Historian Michael Burleigh compared the assassinations to the Allied bombing of Nazi V2 rocket sites during World War II, noting that the bombers "were not unduly concerned whether scientists and engineers were killed too, nor foreign slave labourers, provided the V2s ceased raining down on London." Burleigh argues that scientists are not merely abstract researchers but that there are "real world" consequences for their actions, and that he therefore "shall not shed any tears whenever one of these [Iranian] scientists encounters one of the unforgiving men on motorbikes ... Except that if Israel ventures down this road, I cannot think of much of an argument to prevent Iran following them, and then anyone else who decides to follow."[18]

The assassinations are said to have had a "chilling impact" on the Iranian scientific community itself, making it "more difficult for the regime to recruit anyone to national security research efforts", according to an unnamed Iranian official.[7]

Paul Koring notes that, regardless of their effectiveness, the assassinations have "left a real trail of grief", citing the testimony of Shorheh Pirani, widow of Darioush Rezaeinejad, who was gunned down in front of his wife and then five-year-old daughter Armita. A year after the assassination, Koring reported that Armita "still draws pictures of her father. In them, she and her mother always have their mouths open in terrified screams. 'Every day', Mrs Pirani said, 'she makes that painting.'"[7]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Hasan, Mehdi (12 January 2012). "Iran's nuclear scientists are not being assassinated. They are being murdered". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 February 2016.
  2. 1 2 Meikle, James (12 January 2012). "Iran: timeline of attacks". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 February 2016.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Vick, Karl; Klein, Aaron J. (13 January 2012). "Who Assassinated an Iranian Nuclear Scientist? Israel Isn't Telling". Time. Retrieved 14 February 2016.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Staff writers (4 January 2015). "Iran 'thwarts Mossad attempt to assassinate nuclear scientist'". Russia Today. Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Vick, Kar (13 February 2013). "Spy Fail: Why Iran Is Losing Its Covert War with Israel". Time. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  6. 1 2 3 Cockburn, Patrick (6 October 2013). "Just who has been killing Iran's nuclear scientists?". Independent. Retrieved 11 February 2016.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Koring, Paul (18 June 2012). "The undeclared war on Iran's nuclear program". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 Raviv, Dan (1 March 2014). "U.S. pushing Israel to stop assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists". CBC News. Retrieved 10 February 2016.
  9. 1 2 Sridharan, Vasudevan (8 August 2015). "Israel hints at resuming assassinations of Iran nuclear scientists". International Business Times. Retrieved 8 February 2016.
  10. 1 2 3 Buchanan, Rose Troup (8 Aug 2015). "Israeli defence minister says he is 'not responsible' for lives of Iranian nuclear scientists following historic US-Iran deal". Independent. Retrieved 24 Apr 2016.
  11. 1 2 3 "Israel to Resume Assassinations of Iranian Nuclear Scientists?". ArutzSheva. 7 Aug 2015. Retrieved 24 Apr 2016.
  12. 1 2 3 4 "Tehran denies reports on scientist's "assassination"". Xinhua News Agency. 2007-02-05. Retrieved 2007-02-05.
  13. 1 2 3 4 5 Borger, Julia; Kamali Dehghan, Saeed (5 December 2010). "Covert war against Iran's nuclear aims takes chilling turn". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 February 2016.
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 Levs, Josh (11 January 2012). "Who's killing Iranian nuclear scientists?". CNN. Retrieved 12 February 2016.
  15. 1 2 "Iranian nuclear physicist killed by Revolutionary Guard, not Israel, relative claims". The Jerusalem Post | Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  16. 1 2 "The Media Line". 30 September 2014. Archived from the original on 30 September 2014. Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  17. Staff writers (9 February 2012). "Israel's Mossad Trained Assassins of Iran Nuclear Scientists, Report Says". Haaretz. Retrieved 15 March 2016.
  18. 1 2 3 4 Burleigh, Michael (12 January 2012). "An informal addition to the laws of physics – don't work for Iran". The Telegraph. Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  19. Torbati, Yeganeh (6 August 2012). "Iran airs "confessions" in killings of nuclear scientists". Reuters. Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  20. Staff writers (22 February 2013). "Iran: Guarantee Rights of 'Terror' Suspects". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  21. Staff writers (1 April 2015). "Iran accuses Israel of killing nuclear scientists". i24news. Retrieved 11 February 2016.
  22. Haaretz (2 October 2014). "Sister of Murdered Iranian Nuclear Scientist Blames Revolutionary Guards – Not Israel". Haaretz. Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  23. "Israel didn't assassinate Iranian physicist in 2007 — Revolutionary Guard did, sister says". National Post. Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  24. "Iran accused of assassinating its own nuclear scientist". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 13 March 2016.
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