Ultra-nerdy scientist Sheldon Cooper, a character on the CBS comedy The Big Bang Theory, once refused an invitation to go camping by saying he chose a career in physics “in no small part because it takes place indoors.” Iranian nuclear physicists should probably go out less often. Two of them were killed on Monday in separate attacks, involving magnetic bombs slapped on their cars by motorcycle-riding assassins.
Writing at the Daily Beast, Reza Aslan points out this is not the first time key members of the Iranian nuclear program have experienced sudden declines in their health. Another scientist was taken out by car bomb in January, while a fourth died conveniently of radiation poisoning in 2007. Various other ministers and military officers have disappeared, although some of this could just be a normal result of Iranian politics, which involves a good deal of disappearing.
Many observers see the hand of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, in these deaths. Some believe they are working in concert with the CIA, which would be a refreshing instance of superior performance by a government agency. The Iranians are not shy about making such claims. Aslan quotes Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Iranian nuclear program, as saying “The patience of the Iranian people has its limits. If our patience runs out, you will suffer the consequences.” A member of the Iranian parliament adds, “The more crimes Israel and the United States commit, the higher the speed of Iran’s scientific moves will be.” It would be a shame if Western intelligence forced Iran to bend its completely benign and peaceful nuclear program to weapons production, wouldn’t it?
If these targeted assassinations are truly the work of the Mossad and CIA, they represent the only available avenue for slowing Iran’s march to nuclear weapons. Sanctions and international condemnation certainly are not doing the trick.
Nukes are unlike any other form of military buildup. They are a force multiplier for adventurism, insulating atomic states from reprisal for military and terrorist exploits. They allow the destruction of entire cities to be carried out with horrifying speed, by very small groups of operatives, who are not easily tracked. The days of hostile armies massing on borders to begin invasions have been replaced by the menace of cargo ships sailing into crowded harbors and detonating in mushroom clouds.
The world is virtually unanimous in its desire to deny terror states access to nuclear weapons… and its inability to fulfill that edict through diplomatic or economic means. Blowing up nuclear scientists is just playing for time, but it’s the only strategy left in the civilized world’s playbook. Waiting for oppressed populations to rise up and overthrow tyrannies doesn’t seem to be working out terribly well.