A killer blow against US-Iran ties
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
The assassination of Dr Massoud Ali Mohammadi, a Tehran University nuclear
physicist, on Tuesday, blamed by the Iranian government on the United States
and Israel and their fifth-column allies inside Iran, is the latest sign of an
ominous, growing shadow war with Iran over its nuclear standoff with the West.
The US has officially denied any role in the incident in which a
remote-controlled bomb attached to a motorbike went off near the 50-year-old
professor's home in the Qeytariyeh neighborhood in northern Tehran.
Bill Burton, the White House deputy press secretary, called the accusation
"absurd", saying he would not comment further as he
did not want to "prejudge any information about what actually happened".
An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehman-Parast, commented, "In the
preliminary investigations there can be seen the traces of the triangular
villainy of the US, the Zionist regime and their agents in Iran's terror
Only a few days ago, there were unconfirmed reports that Iran was slowing down
its nuclear fuel program as a gesture of goodwill to give diplomacy some
breathing space, this after intense lobbying by senior European Union diplomats
involved in the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Iran is being
urged to halt its uranium-enrichment program, which many believe is designed to
develop nuclear weapons - a charge Tehran vigorously dismisses.
assassination could torpedo this development-in-the-making and reinstate Iran
on its previous stubborn stance. It also sends a message that the forces
opposed to any breakthrough between the US and Iran are simply too formidable.
Iran's Fars news agency quoted a spokesman for Iran's Atomic Energy
Organization as rejecting "rumors" that Mohammadi had been employed by the
organization, appearing to pour cold water on speculation that Mohammadi had
been killed in an attempt to derail Iran's nuclear program.
However, Asia Times Online correspondent Mahan Abedin, an Iran expert, observes
that, while this is true, Mohammadi had a string of affiliations to scientific
and research organizations at the center of Iran's nuclear program, such as the
Theoretical Physics Institute headed by Mohammad Javad Larijani.
There have also been reports that Mohammadi was linked to the Iranian
opposition, notably to Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former radical prime minister and
now a reformist opposition leader.
Mahan comments, "The opposition led by Mousavi is by and large loyal to the
Islamic Republic of Iran. In any case, it is worlds apart from the illoyal
dissidents based in the West. The loyal opposition inside Iran does not dispute
the foundational strategic and ideological imperatives that underpin the
Iranian nuclear program. But all of this is beside the point. All the available
evidence suggests that the assassinated scientist was apolitical and wholly
devoted to his scientific work."
Initially, the Anjoman-e-Padeshahi (Monarchical Association), a group that
seeks to re-establish the Pahlavi reign (the pro-US shah regime prior to the
Islamic Revolution of 1979), announced in a statement that its "Tondar
Commandos" were behind the assassination. Subsequently, sources inside the
group denied any involvement. A leading Iranian opposition group, the
Iraq-based Mujahideen-e-Khalq, is unlikely to have been involved as it claims
that since 2001 it has renounced violence.
Tuesday's assassination follows the disappearance of another Iranian nuclear
scientist, Shahram Amiri, who went missing while on a pilgrimage to Mecca,
Saudi Arabia, in late May 2009. Tehran has adamantly claimed that he was
abducted by the US Central Intelligence Agency. Unconfirmed reports in December
said Amiri had been transferred into the US government's custody by Saudi
The two cases could be viewed as an attack on Iran's human nuclear assets, as
the next best substitute for outright military invasion. There is also a
relentless public relations campaign in the West against Iran's nuclear
In the past month alone there have been front-page stories in The Times of
London, The New York Times and The Washington Post with "revelations" of
neutron triggers, Iran's purchase of uranium from Kazakhstan, and most
recently, "the maze of tunnels" where Iran has purportedly buried "most" of its
nuclear complex - little of which stands the weight of critical scrutiny.
The neutron trigger document, it now turns out, was not an original document,
but a doctored one, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which
has had extensive access to Iran's nuclear facilities, has informed this author
that the New York Times story on "nuclear tunnels" is news to them.
This is not to say that Iran has not taken some counter-measures with regard to
a military threat. (See
Iran places trust in 'passive defense' Asia Times Online, January 13,
2010). However, as confirmed by Iran's envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh,
the small centrifuge facility known as Fordow near the city of Qom is Iran's
only facility planted in bunkers, and even it is still under construction, with
the completion date some two years away.
History repeats itself, and there is nothing to indicate that the Western media
have learned any lessons from the fiasco of toeing the official lines on Iraq's
supposed weapons of mass destruction eight years ago that were used in part to
justify the US-led invasion in 2003.
There is a grave danger in this shadow war, in that should it get much worse,
Iran could decide to strike back where it can, especially in Iraq and
Afghanistan. Yet, with the US and Iran practically co-dependent in regional
security, imperiled by al-Qaeda and the Taliban, it is not in the interests of
either country to allow a worsening of their relations at this delicate
Linking possible new sanctions on Iran with Iranian democracy issues, as
inferred from the latest pronouncements of US Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton, is also a wrong move. For one thing, it further erodes the legitimacy
of the pro-democracy movement and strengthens the hands of their hardline
oppressors. Clinton's call for "targeted sanctions" on Iran's ruling elite may
be on the US's foreign policy wish list, but they can hardly find a wide
audience at the United Nations, where China has expressly opposed any new
sanctions, as has, to a lesser extent, Russia.
To counter this, the US is saying that unless new sanctions are approved, there
is always the option of military action, as per a recent statement by Admiral
Mike Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, that the US is engaged
in the preparation of military contingencies against Iran and that it is
keeping "all options open".
The notion that Iran will back down in the face of such threats is an
inheritance of the previous US administration of George W Bush; it did not work
then, nor is it likely to work now.
The Barack Obama administration would be best-served to salvage its
self-wrecking ship of Iran diplomacy by veering back to its initial intuition
of what works with Iran, that is, persuasive diplomacy. Unfortunately, as the
smoke of the bomb explosion that killed Mohammadi clears in Tehran, the hazy
thickness of an undeclared shadow war with Iran grows.
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New
Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) . For his Wikipedia entry,
click here. His
Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing
, October 23, 2008) is now available.