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Are the assassinations of Iranian scientists an act of terrorism?

Iran has many capable engineers, and none of the victims appear to have had indispensable knowledge. But spreading fear among the living can slow them down and deter young recruits.

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If Ian Fleming's super-villain Auric Goldfinger, the antagonist in the Bond book of the same name, was right to say once is coincidence, twice is happenstance, and three times is enemy action, then there should be little doubt that a coordinated assassination campaign has been under way in Iran for some time. Suspicion has turned to Israel, since it's the nation most alarmed by Iran's nuclear program and has carried out assassination efforts abroad in the past. After the 2010 murder of a senior Hamas official in Dubai, strong circumstantial evidence pointed to the Mossad, Israel's secret intelligence service.

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After Gen. Moghaddam's death, Israeli Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor told Israel's Army Radio that "not every explosion over there should be tied to espionage and stories from the movies," though he went on to imply that Israel was willing to use violence over Iran's nuclear program. "There are countries who impose economic sanctions and there are countries who act in other ways," Mr. Meridor said then. 

Israeli officials have been studiously ambiguous in their comments on the murders in Iran. That would make sense if Israel was responsible – and if it wasn't. After all, if the murders are being carried out by someone else (perhaps the US, though the White House says the US was not involved, or perhaps as part of some internal Iranian rivalry), it doesn't hurt to get some of the credit, particularly if it has the consequence of creating more fear and doubt in an enemy state.

"There are other messages in these campaigns: one is to terrorize those who are working in [the nuclear program] already. The second is targeted to young scientists thinking of joining," Haaretz columnist Yossi Melman told the Monitor's Joshua Mitnick for a story we published this morning. "The third message is to the regime and population: The message is, 'We can get you anywhere, any time.' The regime is seen as weak."

Is any of this having the desired effect? Iran has continued to insist that it's nuclear work will stream ahead and that it won't be cowed.


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