Another Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated on July 23, making him the fourth to be killed in the past two years. The regime denies that he was connected to the nuclear program, and is accusing Israel and the U.S. of carrying out an act of terrorism. If a foreign intelligence service is the culprit, then it is the latest shot fired in a wide-ranging covert campaign to delay the day when Iran finally gets a nuclear bomb.
Dariush Rezai-Nejad was about to walk into his home in Tehran when he heard his name called. He turned, and saw two men on motorcycles. Five shots were fired, striking him in the neck and hand, killing him and wounding his wife. He was a physics professor specializing in neutron transport, making him the exact type of scientist the regime would need to work on sparking a nuclear reaction. An unconfirmed Israeli report alleges that he worked at a top-secret nuclear site in northeast Tehran on nuclear detonators. Of course, the regime says he was not involved in the nuclear program.
Iranian officials are placing the blame on the U.S. and Israel, but the intelligence minister says, “Operations by foreign intelligence services generally leave signs, but we have not found any signs in this terrorist act and we have not reached any conclusion on whether foreign intelligence services are behind it.” It is possible that the minister is worried that blaming outsiders will create panic within the nuclear program and the security services.
In November 2010, two Iranian nuclear scientists were targeted when magnetized bombs were placed on their cars by men on motorcycles. Majid Shahriari, like Rezai-Nejad, was a specialist in neutron transport, and died. The second scientist, Fereydoon Abbasi, was injured in the attacks. The United Nations had blacklisted him in 2007 for his role in Iran’s nuclear programs. He was promoted to chief of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization afterwards.
In January 2010, a professor of nuclear physics at Tehran University named Masoud Alimohammadi was killed by a remotely-detonated bomb hidden on a motorcycle. However, it is less clear that this was done by enemies of the Iranian regime. He was a supporter of Ahmadinejad’s opponent in the 2009 presidential elections, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, and took part in protests after the election was stolen. It has been alleged that a top Hezbollah operative can be seen in one of the photos following the bombing.
In January 2006, one of Iran’s top nuclear scientists was working at the Isfahan site where uranium conversion takes place when he “suffocated by fumes from a faulty gas fire.” It is widely suspected that he was murdered. Covert operations to undermine Iran’s nuclear program are not limited to targeting scientists, though. There are a large number of incidents in which foreign intelligence services are suspected of playing a role.
The most obvious act of sabotage is the Stuxnet “cyber superweapon.” It disabled the steam turbine of the Bushehr nuclear reactor and damaged centrifuges at Natanz by speeding up their rotations and quickly slowing them down, while disguising the changes from the computers. The cyber assault is likely the reason why only half of the 9,000 centrifuges were being used at once until the virus was discovered. Many units became non-functional, while others only producing half of the uranium they should. It is now believed that Iran has recovered from the damage caused by Stuxnet.
The CIA and Mossad (roughly, the Israeli CIA) were working as early as 1998 to trick Iran into buying booby-trapped equipment for its nuclear program on the black market, such as rigged vacuum pumps for centrifuges. As nuclear expert David Albright explains, “If you can break the vacuum in a centrifuge cascade, you can destroy hundreds of centrifuges or thousands if you are really lucky.” In 2006, Iran admitted that “manipulated” equipment had caused the destruction of 50 centrifuges. In 2009, the director of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization was fired after a similar incident at Natanz.
Faulty equipment provided by foreign intelligence services may also explain other difficulties Iran has had. The Isfahan uranium conversion plant failed to remove all of the impurities from the raw uranium as it was supposed to. Once enrichment rises above a certain level, these impurities could damage the centrifuges. “The contaminated fuel it has produced so far would be all but useless for nuclear weapons. To make enough fuel for a bomb, Iran might have to start over—this time avoiding the impurities,” David Ignatius reported.
In October, there was an explosion at an ammunition depot at a Revolutionary Guards base near Khorramabad, killing at least 18 people. The base housed an underground stockpile of Shahab-3 ballistic missiles and launching pads. This is the same missile that Iran has been working to fit a nuclear warhead onto. A French newspaper reported that the Israelis were behind the explosion.
There have also been a remarkable number of “accidents” affecting Iran’s oil and gas industries. In February, three explosions at three pipelines near Qom cut off the flow of gasoline. The regime said they were not caused by technical errors. In April, three more gas pipelines exploded in the same area. In July 2010, there was a suspicious explosion at a pipeline into Turkey, which the regime attributed to Kurdish militants. Three more pipelines blew up in three separate incidents within the first two weeks of August.
There is a major campaign underway to prevent Iran from becoming armed with nuclear weapons, but such efforts can only delay the program. They cannot stop it. Each blow against Iran’s nuclear pursuits are a success, but it will take the regime’s demise to bring victory.
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