Did Israel assassinate Iran's 'missile king'?
Iran hasn't accused Israel of causing the bomb blast at an ammunition depot near Tehran, and Israel hasn't taken credit. But the blast, which killed the founder of Iran's missile program, fits a pattern.
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As Iran declared it would launch an investigation – and warned that any "foreign hand" would be met with revenge – one Western intelligence source credited Israel's Mossad intelligence service.Skip to next paragraph
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"Don't believe the Iranians that it was an accident," the unidentified Western source told Time in a report from Jerusalem. "There are more bullets in the magazine."
The Israeli government has been at the forefront of calls for military action to disrupt Iran's nuclear program. It does not accept the conclusions of a US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran in late 2007 – and reportedly reaffirmed earlier this year – that Iran gave up its nuclear weapons work in the autumn of 2003, and has made no subsequent decision to go for a bomb.
The latest NIE report included data from "cutting-edge surveillance techniques," and the results of a six-year effort by US soldiers "working with Iranian intelligence assets," according to a report last June by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker.
The techniques involved surreptitiously replacing street signs in Tehran with similar looking ones implanted with radiation sensors, "say, near a university suspected of conducting nuclear enrichment," the New Yorker reported.
"American operatives, working undercover," also exchanged bricks from a "building or two" in central Tehran thought to house enrichment activities, "with bricks embedded with radiation-monitoring devices," wrote the New Yorker.
Close to a bomb?
None of those actions, and others described in the magazine, revealed an ongoing nuclear weapons program. The IAEA report largely confirmed that analysis, with the data it spelled out in unprecedented detail last week.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, said on Sunday that the IAEA report was limited to information that "can be proven; facts that can be presented in court."
"In practice there are many other things we see, and hence the leading states in the world must decide what do to in order to stop Iran," said Netanyahu. "The efforts thus far did not prevent Iran from progressing towards a bomb, and it is closer to acquiring it, sooner than people think."
Israeli newspapers on Sunday carried reports intimating that the Jewish state was behind the latest blast in Iran and other events going back to a 2007 explosion at another missile base.
A headline in Maariv asked, "Who is responsible for attacks on the Iranian army?" noted Time, over a story that simply listed a half dozen violent setbacks for Iran's nuclear and missile programs.
Other Israeli newspapers listed an October 2010 blast at a Shahab missile facility, the killings on the streets of Tehran of three nuclear scientists in the past two years, and the Stuxnet computer worm that caused a portion of Iran's thousands of spinning centrifuges – which enrich uranium for nuclear fuel, or at higher levels of a nuclear bomb – to operate out of control.
"It hasn't stopped Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability," says Fitzpatrick of IISS. "Iran is only a political decision away from having a nuclear weapon – a political decision and a certain amount of time."