Small Wars Journal

Nuclear Scientists as Assassination Targets (Updated)

Thu, 01/12/2012 - 3:21pm

Nuclear scientists as assassination targets

by William Tobey

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists


Five scientists and engineers connected with Iran’s nuclear program have been killed or injured in recent confirmed or possible assassination attempts. It is unclear who is responsible, but the attacks raise unique policy questions about motives, effectiveness, repercussions, and legal and moral standards. Past assassination plots including a US plan to kidnap or kill a German atomic scientist in World War II suggest that such attempts are products of desperation: A nation tries to kill another country’s nuclear scientists when it sees no military or diplomatic options for addressing a perceived threat of existential proportions. The possible advantages of targeting another country’s nuclear scientists are modest at best, possibly delaying (but not halting) a nuclear weapons program while providing some deniability to the attacking country. The disadvantages are many, including the possibility that assassinations will inspire retaliation, reduce the likelihood of a diplomatic solution, and increase the difficulties international regulators face in monitoring a covert nuclear program. In the abstract, moral and legal strictures also weigh against such assassination efforts. As a practical matter, however, if the existential imperative is present, it will likely trump legal and ethical considerations when a nation contemplates assassinating nuclear scientists.

Killing Iranian Scientists is Not Terrorism

by Jonathan S. Tobin

Commentary Magazine

Just as we commonly state that democracy is not a suicide pact, neither is international law. States can and must act, sometimes preemptively, to defend their interests as well as the lives of their citizens.  The most immoral thing either Barack Obama or Benjamin Netanyahu could do would be to abide by Greenwald’s notion of the legal niceties rather than to act to stop the Islamist state. It is far from clear covert activities such as assassinations of Iranian scientists or computer viruses will be enough to halt the threat. But the alternatives — either acquiescing to a nuclear Iran or contemplating massive military action — are far less palatable and will certainly result in far more bloodshed. Therefore, the targeted killings of those engaged in the development of this terrible threat is the least destructive option open to either the U.S. or Israel.

The Long Tradition of Killing Middle Eastern Nuclear Scientists

by Don Peck

The Atlantic

The death of an Iranian nuclear scientist in a car bomb blast on Wednesday has prompted a lot of questions: Was Israel (or perhaps the U.S.) behind the blast? Can such assassinations meaningfully slow Iran's progress toward a bomb? Can they be countenanced, morally?

It's worth noting that this is hardly the first time that nuclear and other weapons scientists in the Middle East have blown up, eaten poison, let the wrong prostitute into their hotel room, or otherwise met an unfortunate end. In 2005, Terrence Henry wrote an Atlantic story chronicling the history of misfortune surrounding previous efforts by Iran and Egypt to acquire nuclear weapons capability and advanced missile capability, respectively -- both of which threatened Israel:


One can't help asking for myopics to put on their glasses before they look at this thing. International Law is all a matter of precedent. Those deemed "outlaws" are the FEW that do not abide by the laws. Israel has invoked its Holocaust Psychosis to justify its hit and run and hit and miss and, often, its hit wrong man actions. And always the argument was that "never again!" invoking the choice of either having its way, right or wrong, or total extermination. Day by day we see the consequences to Israel of this kind of grandomamania unfold. One could think of its collaboration on making nukes with Apartheid South Africa as "tactics." But in fact, it was strategic for Israel sees the Palestinians much as the Afrikaners saw the "Kafers." More and more, the Founding Fathers' goal of making Israel "a light onto the nations" has turned into a modeled from and a model for those who are its enemies. Killing Iranian scientists doesn't kill Iran's nuclear project but, more and more, it kills the willingness of Diaspora Jews to dig deep into their political and economic assets to stand by Israel and it destroys the willingness of Western peoples to support Israel. In the end-- if it doesn't destroy itself by becoming a totalitarian B.C.-style mini-state-- the real problem is that World Jewry, at best, deems Israel a nice place to visit but not to live and the Sabras educated in Israel's wonderful universities seek careers abroad. It's worth recalling that in a true translation of Ahmadinejad's speeches, Israel was not predicted to disappear by Iranian nukes but by Israeli reaction which betrays the totalitarian character of Israel when the issue is really decisive. It is sad that brave Sabras have little to say as they respond to call-up from leaders that have an Israeli passport in one pocket and an American one in the other. Thus, IF Israel is killing these Iranian scientists, it is killing itself slowly. That's very sad, given that no serious Israeli analysis to date believes that if Iran achieved nuclear capability it would make bombs to use on Israel. The neocons made it clear what is the issue: Israel wants to dominate the Middle East at whatever the cost-- to others that is. Iran has been hypnotizing both Israel and the Sunni Arab states with baby steps that in no way reflect no reality. Khameini deems the assassination of a few scientists a small price to pay for justifying increasing tightening of the screw in the name of "security." Israel has for too long dragged the US by the nose pretending its tactics were really strategy. Of course, this could have been a Saudi job, Egyptian or Kuwaiti. In that case, Israel is being very well set up by its enemies, enemies whose people hate these leaders far more than they do Iran or Israel. But that's where our military comes in as "guardians" of oil with their blood. Alas, most Americans just say: thank God I can still buy my gas cheaper than Europeans and it ain't my son standing there guarding the sand dunes. We loooooove our troops, almost as much as a spoon full of gas each.