Did Iran kill one of its own nuclear scientists?

ABC News reports: Iranian dissidents have long suspected that the country’s Islamist regime has used the cover of its not-so-covert war with Israel to crack down on internal opponents, and that a leading Iranian nuclear scientist whose death was blamed on Mossad might really have been killed by his own government.

Now a prominent opposition blogger based in London says that discrepancies in the recent trial and execution of the “Israeli spy” officially charged with killing scientist Masoud Ali Mohammadi are yet more evidence that Iranian intelligence agents may have been the real assassins.

Mohammadi, a nuclear physicist, died in January 2010 when a motorcycle parked outside his house was detonated by remote control when he walked past.

A half dozen scientists and officials linked to the nation’s nuclear and long-range missile programs have died under suspicious circumstances since 2010, deaths the Iranian regime usually blames on Israel, the U.S., and the U.K. When Mohammadi died, the regime immediately blamed his murder on a “triangle of wickedness,” meaning the U.S., Israel and their “hired agents.”

“Zionists did it,” said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “They hate us and they don’t want us to progress.” Ali Larjani, chairman of the Iranian parliament, said the government had “clear information that the intelligence regime of the Zionist regime and the CIA wanted to implement terrorist acts.”

But Western intelligence agencies had conflicting information about whether Mohammadi, a particle physicist, was really contributing to the nuclear program. Iranian dissidents, meanwhile, said Mohammadi had been killed by the regime because he was a supporter of reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, whom many believe actually won the 2009 Iranian presidential election before vote-tampering handed the victory to Ahmadinejad. A German-based opposition group released a photo of an alleged Arab hitman who had supposedly carried out Mohammadi’s assassination on regime orders.

At Mohammadi’s funeral, hundreds of regime loyalists waving anti-Israel banners packed the procession, where they clashed with supporters of Mousavi’s Green Movement.

More than two years later, on May 15, 2012, the Iranian government executed 24-year-old Majid Jamali Fashi, who had been convicted of assassinating Mohammadi.

Iranian authorities claimed that Fashi, 24, was recruited and trained by Mossad and was paid $120,000 to kill Mohammadi. In January 2011, Iranian media had broadcast Fashi’s confession, in which he said he “received different training including chasing, running, counter-chasing and techniques for planting bombs in a car” while in Tel Aviv. Fashi also confessed to receiving forged travel documents in Azerbaijan to travel to Israel, Iran’s Press TV reported.

A report which refers to Iran’s “not-so-covert war with Israel” stumbles at the gate. Can the reporter possibly not know that he got that back to front? It could just be standard mainstream sloppy journalism. Really, most of the content of this article is recycled news — the one new element comes not from ABC’s own reporting but from the London-based Iranian dissident Potkin Azarmehr in this post.

Azarmehr points to two rather glaring discrepancies in the fake Israeli passport that the Iranian hitman, Jamali Fashi, was supposedly provided by Mossad. The photo of Jamali would have been taken before the passport was issued in 2003 at which time Jamali would only have been 15, but he appears older. Also, he is not posing in the standard face-forward position used universally for passport photos. But then commenters on Azarmehr’s blog noticed an even more glaring problem: the passport contains exactly the same information as can be found on an image of an Israeli passport appearing on Wikipedia.

What others have not noted is perhaps the most basic problem with Jamali’s Israeli passport: it shows no name nor birth year!

Whatever Mossad is or is not capable of doing, I have no doubt that they could provide an agent with a flawless passport. (As for why they would be handing out such passports is a question I’ll come back to in a moment.)

So, whoever made Jamali’s Israeli passport it seems they were more likely serving the Iranian rather than the Israeli government and their objective was not to construct a physical document that could be shown to an immigration official but instead a document that could appear on TV. For that purpose, Wikipedia might have appeared to provide enough information.

Even so, the passport-maker seems to have been singularly lacking in imagination. Where Wikipedia redacted personally identifying information from an image of what is obviously a real Israeli passport, in the fake passport, instead of filling in the gaps the passport-maker just left these spaces blank — hence no surname or given name.

However, there was one blank he had to fill: the photo — and here’s where he seems to have been inspired by a creative impulse. How should Jamali pose? Just like another Israeli spy, Jonathan Pollard. Perhaps Israel has a special format it reserves for passports issued to spies, the counterfeiter thought.

OK. Enough of this blogger’s attention to detail.

There is a more basic question: why in heaven’s name would Mossad give an Iranian agent an Israeli passport? An Israeli passport is like the kiss of death and thus Mossad goes to great lengths to disguise the Israeli identity of its own operatives. So while the Israelis move around under assumed non-Israeli identity, they give their Iranian assassin an Israeli passport as though they wanted to pin a target on his back?

There is of course the much more obvious explanation: the Jamali-Mossad story was a dumb Iranian plot designed to cover up their own assassination of one of their own nuclear scientists.

But why is this story emerging now? Jamali’s confession was used by Iranian authorities to demonstrate that the dissident People’s Mujahedin of Iran or MEK have been collaborating with Israel in conducting assassinations inside Iran. The MEK, designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, is attempting to get this label removed. For that purpose there’s little doubt that the Jamali story, as it is now being retold, could serve as a useful element in the MEK’s PR campaign.

There is also another question: does this story have some relevance to the current negotiations between Iran and the P5 Plus One? Perhaps.

Can a government that’s willing to assassinate its own nuclear scientists operate a viable nuclear program whether that be for peaceful or military purpose?

As Jacques E.C. Hymans has noted, authoritarian governance and the challenges of scientific development do not work well together. Fear shackles creativity. That Iran’s nuclear program has advanced at a snail’s pace might not simply be a reflection of caution among Iran’s leaders but rather that the scientific community upon whose efforts progress depends has become so risk-averse that they are incapable of moving any faster. For those who fear the creation of an Iranian bomb, probably the smartest thing to do would be to do nothing.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

One thought on “Did Iran kill one of its own nuclear scientists?

  1. Norman

    You might have hit the nail on the head, so to speak Paul, with the possibility of the removal of the MEK from the U.S. terrorist list. This brings up the “Q”, if the MEK is listed as a terrorist group, why are they allowed to operate agents here in the U.S. as well as have prominent right wing people championing their case/cause?

Comments are closed.