Iran has recently blamed Israel and the United States for the killing of its nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, who was ambushed in Tehran by a car bomb.
Roshan was involved with the Natanz uranium enrichment site – a facility that Western powers and Israel believe is being used to develop nuclear weapons.
Roshan was the fourth nuclear scientist to be killed by a car-bombing Iran in the past two years. Tehran University professor Masoud Ali-Mohammadi was killed when a rigged motorcycle exploded next to him in January 2010; while in November 2010 professors and nuclear scientists Majid Shahriari and Fereydoun Abbasi were killed by a car bomb that was also blamed on Israel.
The suspicion that Israel may be responsible for these murders received heightened attention when a French newspaper reported that Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad, has been actively recruiting Kurdish Iranian dissidents in Iraq to perpetrate attacks against Iran’s nascent nuclear power
But is Israel really behind these killings? And, if so, why would they take such a risk to engineer such acts against one of their deadliest enemies, Iran?
International Business Times spokes to an expert on Mideast politics to discuss the topic.
Dilshod Achilov is a professor of political science at East Tennessee State University, in Johnson City, Tenn.
IB TIMES: The French newspaper Le Figaro recently alleged that Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad, is recruiting Iranian Kurds in Iraq to subvert Tehran’s nuclear program. They also suggested that Israel is behind the recent murders of Iranian nuclear scientists. Do you think these reports are credible?
ACHILOV: It is not impossible. There is little doubt that Mossad is actively trying to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program using various covert operations by any means necessary. Cyber-attacks on Iranian computer networks and targeted suicide missions against Iranian nuclear scientists are not random events. Rather, these events are carefully planned and thoroughly orchestrated operations by one or more intelligence units (working in close collaboration) who are committed to halt Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
There were already many reports in the past that documented the involvement of Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and Mossad operatives in helping the Kurdish separatists -- Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) -- in northern Iran.
IB TIMES: What reasons would Kurds in Iraq and Iran have to help Israel?
ACHILOV: Although it is hard to speculate on this issue without hard evidence, we can consider the following factors: First of all, money goes a long way: financial incentives play an important role when it comes to recruiting help from an indigenous population. Second, the members of the Kurdish PJAK, including PJAK’s sympathizers and affiliates, have long fought for a greater Kurdistan against the Iranian regime.
There is probably no other better candidate who could help Israel against Tehran on the premise that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The PJAK is a sworn enemy of Iranian regime.
Thus, the militant Kurds of PJAK would make perfect recruits for Israel and the U.S. to run covert operations inside Iran. In return, PJAK can get money, weapons, intelligence assistance and military training from the Mossad and other intelligence agencies, namely CIA of the U.S. and MI6 of Great Britain.
IB TIMES: Do Kurds generally have favorable views of Israel and the Jews?
ACHILOV: The ethnic Kurds are geographically dispersed (in and around Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey) and often have varying degrees of perceptions about life, statehood, religion, and attitudes toward the West, including Israel.
It is really hard to generalize perceptions on Israel. The perceptions are more mixed and divided than clear-cut. However, the leadership of both PJAK and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) – a Kurdish separatist group in long-term conflict with Turkey -- is widely believed to have strong ties to Israel.
IB TIMES: Do you think Mossad was also behind the attacks on nuclear facilities in Iraq and Syria in previous years?
ACHILOV: Not only Mossad in particular, but the Israeli military – IDF – in general, has certainly played the central role in eliminating Iraq’s Osirak nuclear facility in 1981 as well as Syria’s covert Al-Kibar nuclear reactor in 2007. The IDF has even confirmed its involvement in the past.
IB TIMES: Did those attacks seriously curtail the nuclear ambitions of Iraq and Syria?
ACHILOV: Yes, both attacks substantially halted the nuclear programs in both countries. Both of the destroyed reactors were at their initial phase of development. Thus, the air-strikes were highly successful in curtailing the nuclear programs. The attacks also sent a strong message to other neighboring countries that any similar attempt to build a nuclear reactor could result in similar air-strikes by Israel in the future.
IB TIMES: If Israeli defense forces tried to bomb Iran’s nuclear plant, what do you think the immediately fallout would be?
ACHILOV: It would be disastrous! Iran is a totally different story: it is comparable neither to Iraq nor Syria.
The immediate fallouts, to name a few, would be: global oil prices would skyrocket and threaten the recovery of the global financial crisis; the U.S. would certainly be dragged into the conflict causing a wider military confrontation in the Middle East; Iran could activate Hezbollah to mobilize against Israel and open a new front in the Levant; Iran would most likely attack oil tankers passing through the Strait of Hormuz (where 30 percent of world’s oil shipments go through annually), an act which could prompt the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to retaliate against Iran.
Moreover, the entire region could be embroiled in the large, massive war; Iran could turn to international terrorism tactics by sponsoring various attacks upon the West; and the US homeland would face an all-time high threat from Iran-sponsored terrorist plots.
Speaking of far-reaching economic implications on the world markets, one can only imagine/guess how much one would have to pay for gas at the pump.
IB TIMES: Does Mossad operate independently of Israel’s government and parliament? Who do they have to answer to?
ACHILOV: The Mossad is expected to report directly to the incumbent Prime Minister of Israel. On security issues, the relationship between IDF, Mossad and the executive political power (Prime Minister, President and Defense Minister) is intertwined.
Disagreements on the course of actions are more common in Israeli politics, which demands consensus-building amongst all the veto players of the state.
IB TIMES: What is the status of Israel’s own nuclear weapon program?
ACHILOV: Israel employs an “ambiguity” approach in regards to its nuclear program. Israel does not accept, reject, or even talk about its nuclear capabilities. Rarely, some allusions are made to Israel’s unique abilities by the IDF during press conferences. The history of the Israeli nuclear program goes back to 1950s. The current status is believed to be active and ongoing. In fact, it is widely believed that Israel possesses one of the most complex and highly sophisticated nuclear programs in the world.
The exact number and capacity of IDF’s nuclear arsenal is not known, but estimated to be in hundreds. Israel views its nuclear program as a deterrent force in the region. The current President of Israel, Shimon Peres, once argued that Israel’s ambiguity about its nuclear capabilities only adds to the strength of Israel’s power of deterrence in the region.
IB TIMES: Would the U.S. government give tacit approval to any such provocative attack by Israel?
ACHILOV: I don’t believe the U.S. government is giving any tacit approvals to any such attacks by Israel. Indeed, the U.S. is firmly against using preemptive airstrikes against Tehran at the moment.
Almost all intelligence units in the U.S. and European Union (EU) have voiced deep concerns over the far-reaching negative implications of a possible military confrontation with Iran. For U.S. interests in the region and at home (considering the immediate fallouts mentioned above), the apparent disadvantages by far outweigh the benefits of a military confrontation against Tehran.
Most analysts, including myself, agree that any military strike against Iran can only delay, but not completely eliminate, Tehran’s nuclear program. On the contrary, a military confrontation could in fact accelerate the nuclear arms race in the Middle East. There is hardly any good option or a solution to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
IB TIMES: What are the implications of a nuclear Iran?
ACHILOV: If nothing is done and Iran goes nuclear, other Arab countries, plus Turkey, could soon join the nuclear arms race to deter Iran’s regional strategic influence.
In the long term, “coping” or “management” strategies, rather than “all-out destructive” tactics may prove more effective. Either way, or regardless of what actions are taken against Tehran, the outcome of Iranian nuclear program pose immense security dilemmas in the region.
We all know that nuclear technology is there to stay and only to grow in the future, as the demand for energy continues to soar. There is no quick solution to the future nuclear arms race. Along with opportunities, this technology is bound to bring uncertainty and, unfortunately, dangers as well.