Major Covert Campaign Claims Another Iranian Scientist

Attacks increase fivefold, but is it enough to derail the nuclear threat?

An Iranian nuclear scientist was killed yesterday in an attack similar to those carried out on other scientists. Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan is the fifth scientist to mysteriously die. The killing is the latest in a long list of apparent covert operations in recent months to stall Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Iran describes Roshan as the “deputy in charge of commerce” at its Natanz enrichment facility and immediately blamed “the Zionist regime” for his death. Two individuals attached and detonated a magnetic bomb to his car in Tehran outside of Allameh Tabatai University, killing him and his bodyguard. Roshan was a lecturer at the university.

At Natanz, Roshan was in charge of procuring equipment. The fact that he had a bodyguard shows he had an important role. His death comes just one day after the Israeli military’s chief of staff said that 2012 is a “critical year” for Iran and referred to “events that happen unnaturally.” Indeed, the past few months has seen a huge rise in “accidents” and other “unnatural” events affecting Iran’s nuclear program and the regime’s pillars of strength.

On December 22, the Iranian regime claimed that its oil depot in Abadan was hit with a rocket. It is located in the Arab-populated Khuzestan Province, so it may have been launched by locals that often clash with the regime. The attack came just two weeks after Iran announced that it would spend $800 million to increase its gasoline output by 12,500 barrels per day by February.

The covert operations aren’t just aimed at nuclear sites and their staff. The Washington Post says that there has been a “fivefold increase in explosions at refineries and gas pipelines since 2010.” There were three explosions at gas pipelines in 2009. In 2010, it was 17. In February, three gas pipelines near Qom were hit with explosions. In April, another three explosions in the same area happened. In July, a pipeline to Turkey was struck, and three more pipelines suffered blasts within the first two weeks of August.

On December 15, Israel carried out a secret air strike on a convoy in Sudan headed to Hamas. It was carrying weapons from Iran. At least six Land Cruiser jeeps were destroyed and four were killed. There was reportedly another strike in Sudan in early December that destroyed at least one truck.

On December 11, a mysterious explosion happened at a steel plant in Yazd that almost no one reported on. The blast killed 7 people and wounded 12. Among the casualties were unidentified foreigners. The site has not been publicly tied to Iran’s nuclear program, so it indicates the perpetrators had access to classified information. Michael Ledeen wrote that the plant made the material for nose cones for ballistic missiles. Other reports said the steel can be used in making exhaust systems. A German news outlet reported in November that North Korea was providing Iran and Syria with maraging steel for centrifuges.

On November 28, massive explosions were heard in Isfahan, where there is a uranium conversion facility. The regime first claimed they were due to an “accident” and then said the reports were false. It has been reported that Western intelligence believes that a “bombing squad” infiltrated the site, setting off blasts that “wrecked” the site, including its stock of low-enriched uranium.

The Institute for Science and International Security, on the other hand, looked at satellite photos and concluded that the explosions did not occur at the conversion site and actually happened at a site 400 meters away. The buildings at the site were no longer standing when the photos were taken. The organization said that “this underground facility was originally a salt mine dating back to at least the 1980s, and that it has more recently been used for storage.  It is unclear what Iran stored in this underground facility." The ISIS says the eliminated buildings were being demolished before the explosion happened.

On November 23, there was an explosion in Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon, reportedly destroying a stock of hundreds of missiles and rockets. Hezbollah’s headquarters in Beirut suffered a blast in July. On November 12, a Revolutionary Guards missile base at Bid Kaneh near Tehran was destroyed, killing a top engineer overseeing Iran’s long-range ballistic program and at least 16 other Revolutionary Guardsmen. Michael Ledeen reports that Ayatollah Khamenei was informed that the real death toll is 377, including 4 North Koreans.

On October 12, a Revolutionary Guards base at Khorramabad experienced an explosion at an ammunitions stockpile. The reported death toll was 18. The site has an underground stockpile of Shahab-3 long-range missiles and launching pads. The International Atomic Energy Agency says that this is the missile that Iran has been designing a nuclear warhead for. This same month, the “Son of Stuxnet” was discovered. Stuxnet is the name of a "cyber superweapon" that damaged centrifuges and possibly the Bushehr nuclear reactor in the summer of 2009. Those that found the new virus are certain that it had the same authors.

On July 23, an Iranian nuclear scientist who specializes in neutron transport, the kind of expertise needed for nuclear reactions, was shot to death at his home. There are unconfirmed reports that he worked on nuclear triggers at a secret site in northeast Tehran. He was the fourth scientist to die. In November 2010, two were attacked in the same manner as Roshan. One died and one was wounded. The one who died specialized in neutron transport (just like the one that died on July 23 did) and the other had been blacklisted by the U.N. since 2007 for his role in Iran’s nuclear program.

In January 2010, a nuclear scientist was killed in a bomb attack. It is less certain that this was at the hands of a foreign intelligence service because he supported Mir-Hossein Mousavi, an opposition leader who ran against Ahmadinejad for the presidency. A man thought to be a top Hezbollah operative was witness to the scene. In January 2007, a scientist who worked at the Isfahan conversion site died when he was “suffocated by fumes from a faulty gas fire,” according to Iran.

In 2009, there was an explosion at Natanz, after which the chief of the Atomic Energy Organization was fired. Three years earlier, an explosion at the site destroyed 50 centrifuges. The regime said that “manipulated equipment” caused it. The U.S. and Israel have long tried to sell Iran booby-trapped equipment for its nuclear program on the black market. David Ignatius has reported on how faulty equipment has undermined the Isfahan site’s ability to remove impurities from low-enriched uranium.

There are too many incidents in too short of a period for these to be accidents. One or more foreign intelligence services must be behind them. The tempo of these incidents has increased sharply since October. A major covert campaign to rip apart Iran’s nuclear program is underway. If the pace holds, we should expect another incident within weeks.

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