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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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According to the IAEA report, he says Iran "has already conducted a lot of the weapons development research, and stockpiled enough low-enriched uranium (LEU) for at least two if not four weapons," if enriched further.

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Espionage and assassinations

Fitzpatrick said that the Stuxnet malware was "probably overhyped," but "appears to have knocked out 1,000" of Iran's centrifuges, a sizable portion of the roughly 8,000 that Iran has installed. Still, Iran today has more LEU than it did before the virus took hold in Iran's nuclear facilities, and its ballistic missile force can deliver nuclear weapons, even though shrinking them to fit any warhead remains a hurdle.

"I would be very surprised if there were not other efforts in the works" to undermine Iran's progress, adds Fitzpatrick. "So Iran's nuclear weapons community has to be constantly looking over its collective shoulders anticipating further efforts.

"The countries that ... won't abide [a nuclear-armed Iran] don't want to undertake military attack," he says, "so there are a range of other tools they are aggressively employing to try to stop Iran's program without resorting to military attack."

Even among the leadership of the IRGC – which controls Iran's missile program, and has many links, at least, with its nuclear efforts – Moghaddam appears to have had a special place as one of the few favored by Iran's supreme religious leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

"A major part of (our) progress in the field of missile capability and artillery was due to round-the-clock efforts by martyr Moghaddam," Saeed Qasemi, an IRGC commander, told the conservative news website, according to the AP.

"The exalted leader had a special interest in him," said Mr. Qasemi.

A photograph that emerged in Tehran showed a younger Ayatollah Khamenei -- who has made all final state decisions in the Islamic Republic for more than two decades -- holding his left hand to the epaulet of the Guard uniform of the young, bearded Moghaddam.

Iranian officials have complained that their nuclear scientists have been killed on the streets of Tehran – sometimes after their identities and work were disclosed by the UN.

Fereydoon Abbasi, a nuclear scientist who survived an attack a year ago, of a magnetized "sticky bomb" stuck to his car in traffic by a motorcycle-borne assassin, has since recovered and been named the director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.

A colleague, Majid Shahriari, was killed moments earlier on the same day, in a similar attack in another part of Tehran.

Just days after those attacks last December, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, took part in talks with world powers about Iran's nuclear program in Geneva.

With a portrait of Mr. Shahriari beside him at the podium – a strip of black cloth across the upper left corner of the dead scientist – Mr. Jalili said it was "disgraceful" for the UN Security Council that the listing of Iranian scientists for sanctions, he claimed, had led directly to the killing.

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