Was Israel behind Iran nuclear scientist's assassination?
While yesterday's assassination of an Iran nuclear scientist may risk an escalation of hostilities, analysts say the calculation would make sense for Israel.
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That said, many believe the repeated strikes against Iran are likely to ratchet up pressure on Iran to retaliate. Former Mossad director Danny Yatom told Israel Radio on Wednesday that Iranian reports of the assassination lays the groundwork to justify a retaliation. Indeed, the chief editor of Iran's hard-line Kayhan newspaper, Hossein Shariatmadari, today penned a column pressing for just such a response. "Assassinations of Israeli military and officials are easily possible," he wrote.Skip to next paragraph
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But because Israel refuses to confirm or deny the attacks, Iran lacks an obvious smoking gun with which to justify escalating the conflict through an open strike on Israel. Instead, Iran is likely to look for a covert means of retaliation, which is more difficult to carry out.
"The Iranians are getting to be in a problematic place; they threaten but don't act," Mr. Yatom said. "They will have to do something if they want people to take them seriously and I therefore believe we are on an inevitable collision course."
Sanctions more damaging than assassinations
Legislation signed by President Obama on Dec. 31 allows him to suspend transactions with Iran’s central bank, a clearinghouse for nearly all oil and gas payments, and cut trade ties with any country that doesn't follow suit. The European Union last week agreed in principle to an oil embargo on Iran.
In previous years, key figures from other organizations that are enemies of Israel have been assassinated under a fog of plausible deniability. In 2008, Hezbollah military chief Imad Mughniyeh was assassinated in the Syrian capital of Damascus by a car bomb. The Shiite militant movement accused Israel.
But after the Mossad's botched 1997 assassination attempt against Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Jordan, Israel's role became public when it was compelled to provide an antidote to the nerve toxin it had used against Mr. Meshal. The prime minister at the time was Benjamin Netanyahu, who has since returned to the job for a second term and has argued for strong action to thwart Iran's alleged nuclear-weapons aspirations.
For Iran, the biggest threat is not assassinations like yesterday's, however humiliating such attacks may be. Rather, economic sanctions are the most dangerous for the regime’s stability, says Meir Javedanfar, an Iran analyst based in Israel.
"To the Supreme Ruler [Ayatollah Khamenei], the No. 1 concern is staying in power," he says. "Nuclear scientists don’t keep you in power, it’s the economy that keeps that you in power."
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