Who Is Killing Iran’s Nuclear Scientists – And Why?

By Stephen Gowans

One day last November, assassins on motorbikes drove up to the cars of two of Iran’s nuclear scientists as they were leaving for work and attached bombs to their vehicles. The bombs detonated in seconds, killing Majid Shahriari, a member of the engineering faculty at a Tehran university, and Fereydoon Abbasi, a professor at Shahid Besheshti University. 

Last week, in an eerie reprise, Darioush Rezaei, a physics professor working in the field of nuclear chain reactions, was killed in his car. This time by a pair of gunmen on a motorcycle. 

Suspicion immediately fell upon the United States, and for good reason. The CIA is running a program to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program by eliminating its nuclear scientists. Until recently, the program has sought to create a brain drain by luring physicists and engineers out of the country.(1) But now it appears that the nuclear scientists who won’t or can’t be lured away are being targeted for elimination – either by assassination or abduction. 

Another Iranian nuclear scientist, Shahram Amiri, was abducted while on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia and “spirited quickly to the United States.” (2) 

It should be recalled that while the United States and its possible partner in the assassinations, Israel, are working to undermine Iran’s nuclear program, both have their own civilian nuclear power industries plus more than a few nuclear weapons. 

So why are they adamant about denying Iran what they, themselves, already have?

And just to be clear, what Washington and the Israelis don’t want Iran to have is the capability of processing nuclear fuel at home. While this would allow the Iranians to convert Iran’s vast supplies of uranium into fuel to power a civilian nuclear energy industry, it would also furnish Iran with the means to quickly develop nuclear weapons, something it might want to do if, say, the United States threatened to attack (hardly an improbable scenario).

Denying Iran its own nuclear fuel processing industry has obvious advantages to rich countries.

  • They derive profits from the sale of nuclear fuel.
  • With their hands on the nuclear fuel spigot, they acquire political leverage over Tehran.
  • Iran’s ability to resist US pressure by developing nuclear arms is severely crimped.

The official story on why Iran mustn’t have its own nuclear fuel processing capability is that if Iran can process uranium it can secretly develop nuclear arms. And the country must not be allowed to go nuclear because its president is a Judeophobic madman who, if he gets the chance, will send a barrage of nuclear-tipped missiles hurtling toward Israel to complete what Hitler had left undone.

This view is utter nonsense.

First, the United States would incinerate Iran in a second if Tehran used nuclear weapons against Israel. And if Washington couldn’t do the job, the Israelis, with their own formidable nuclear arsenal, surely would. At best, Iran’s possession of nuclear arms (and it doesn’t have them now and it’s not clear it seeks them) would provide a deterrent against attacks on its own territory.

What’s more, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, never promised to “wipe Israel off  the map,” as some Western and Israeli political leaders demagogically claim. Instead, he predicted that Israel as a Jewish state would dissolve, as the Soviet Union once did. Hardly the same.   

Another view is that Ahmadinejad intends to attack Israel in order to return Palestine to the Palestinians. Except this would turn Palestine into a nuclear wasteland, not what the Palestinians want. And why would Ahmadinejad risk Iran’s nuclear annihilation to advance the Palestinian cause? Sure, Iran is a big booster of the Palestinians, but not to the point of imperilling its own existence. 

No, the real reason Washington seeks to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program is to deny the country a means by which it can resist efforts to bring it within the US imperial orbit, that is, to eliminate the threat of Iranian self-defense. 

Iran is charting its own course. Its economic policies, which emphasize state-ownership of key sectors of the economy, and the sheltering of manufacturing behind high tariff walls, are an anathema to the ultra-wealthy bankers and investors who dominate US foreign policy and insist that profit-making opportunities be made available to them just as much beyond US borders as within.

As an example of the opportunities that Iran’s nationalist policies deny investors and corporations of rich countries, consider the country’s automobile industry. It operates behind steep tariff walls which allow two domestic firms, both partly government-owned, to absorb 97 percent of all automobile sales in the country. Sales reached 1.6 million units last year. (3) Were Iran’s high tariff barriers toppled, US, European and East Asian automobile manufacturers could add handsomely to their bottom lines.

But a nuclear-armed Iran—even one which doesn’t have nuclear weapons, but has the knowledge and means to quickly develop them—could strongly resist demands made at gunpoint that it turn over its markets, natural resources and enterprises to foreign capital.

Of course, US sophistry holds that that’s not what Washington wants. It’s not seeking economic domination, only a level playing field. The trouble is, asking a Third World country to compete with rich countries on a level playing field is like asking high school football teams to compete in the NFL – without assistance. 

Since US foreign policy is all about opening doors to US investors and exporters, and Iranian policy is focussed on using state-ownership, subsidies and tariffs to develop the country’s economy, Washington and Tehran are in conflict. Washington wants Tehran’s economic policy to accommodate the profit-making interests of US banks, corporations and investors, while Tehran fashions its economic policy to accommodate the interests of Iranians.

For Washington, the route to resolving the conflict lies in ushering in a new regime in Tehran, one more attentive to the needs of US capital. It would be pro-foreign investment and committed to free markets, free trade and free enterprise.  

Since Iranians don’t seem to be heading in this direction as rapidly as Wall Street would like, Washington hopes to change their minds through sanctions, threats of war, financial isolation, and destabilization, centred on demonization of Iran’s political leadership.  

Oh, and abduction and assassination too.

1. Greg Miller, “US now sees Iran as pursuing nuclear bombs,” Los Angeles Times, February 12, 2009.

2. David E. Sanger, “Scientist heads home, Iran says”, The New York Times, July 14, 2010; Alan Cowell, “Pakistan says Iran scientists in U.S.flees to its embassy”, The New York Times, July 13, 2010.

3. “Iranian car lines keep rolling despite sanctions”, Reuters, June 29, 2011.

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