Killing Iranian Nuclear Scientists – an Act of War?

by on January 11th, 2015
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Americans get their news about Iran’s nuclear program, their capabilities and intentions from people they think are in the know; diplomats and journalists. Journalists feel responsible to present what they think they know in a calm and reasonable manner. Diplomats are, well; diplomatic. Still some Washington “insiders”, both politicians and media members, have issued some pretty serious warnings about the dangers of Iran’s nuclear program. Despite their recent up-tick in bellicose, baiting saber rattling, Tehran still claims its nuclear program is strictly non-military. No one, not the U.S. State Department, none of the international intelligence agencies, or the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency’s personnel, believe that Iran is not attempting to make a nuclear weapon.

Set against this background; there have been several assassinations of top level Iranian nuclear scientists across the past couple of years; including one recently via a planted-in-transit car bomb. Common wisdom has placed the state of Israel as the entity behind these assassinations (either with or without the knowledge or assistance of the U.S.). The legitimacy, value and wisdom of these assassinations has been questioned and commented on inside and outside the Beltway, in other countries both friends and enemies of Israel and/or the U.S., and of course everywhere in the Muslim world.

Assassination as a tool of political policy is as old as government and politics itself. From the ancient Forum of Julius Caesar, through the medieval era of the Medici’s, into the 21st. Century, there have been assassinations and differing opinions on its use. The current discussion of assassination isn’t focused on the individual or personal motivation for political assassination; such as eliminating a rival to usurp their power (as practiced in some African nations) or to punish a individual held personally responsible for some attributed wrong (as in the murder of Israeli Prime Minister Rabin). The debate is about the use of assassination as a tool used by a government in the prosecuting of an assumed or real state of war with another nation or political entity opponent.

Besides the assassination of the Iranian nuclear scientists, other examples are the use of unmanned “drone” aircraft by the U.S. against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan, or the under reported use of snipers in Iraq. In most of these current uses of assassination under discussion there is some gray area. If a formal state of war exists between two entities; the killing of virtually anyone in ones enemy war personnel structure is perceived by international law as an act of war. Assuming acts of war meet a certain criteria such as the Geneva Convention; this make the killing of an enemy leader or follower legitimate whether they be military or civilian, as long as they are serving the war effort of the enemy. Co-lateral damage and loss of life is always another consideration in war, and whether it occurs as an unavoidable byproduct of active combat between military units or the attempt to reduce an enemy’s ability to make war through destruction of production facilities and personnel, it is exceedingly regrettable.

However in some of the current conflicts in which assassination is used, there are additional factors that bear on judgments regarding its use. In some cases no formal state of war exists between the nations and nationals targeted. And in some cases at least one of the parties is not a nation at all; such as the Taliban which operates in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, as an independent, self directed army. But just because they are not sanctioned by a specific government; insurgencies can effectively fight as an Army and have considerable affect on political and governmental control of a region or a country. In the cases of the death of Iranian scientists, they were employees of a government; and were working on a program strongly suspected of developing nuclear weapons. Such weapon development is forbidden under nuclear non-proliferation treaties Iran had been party to. So if they are doing what the entire world believes they are; Iran is deploying these scientists in brazen violation of major international law governing nuclear weapons.

But just attempting to prevent or slow down this violation is not the whole reason behind the killing of Iran’s scientists. It is also strongly believed that should Iran ever possess nuclear weapons; the state of Israel, and perhaps the U.S., would be in grave danger of being subject to nuclear attack. The political leadership of Iran has made unequivocal threats to destroy Israel, with the presumed backing of the religious leadership that controls the country. The historic behavior of the Iranian government and theocracy which has long standing record of supplying several of Israel’s enemies with weapons, material, training and other resources, their attack on the sovereign U.S. embassy and the inhumane holding of Americans hostage for well over a year, heir multi year war with Iraq in which they lost over a million people showing a marked lack of concern regarding the loss of life in armed conflict; all

show that Iran is very capable of acting on or enabling surrogates to act on antagonistic feeling towards their perceived enemies.

In light of the horrific danger that nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran and/or their surrogates, the feeling expressed by many political and military authorities inside and outside the U.S. is that Iran cannot be allowed to develop or possess nuclear arms. Assuming the validity of that position, the next logical question is; how to stop Iran from developing nuclear arms. There has been a range of suggestions proposed and tried to effectively prevent Iran’s having nuclear capabilities. Massive all out attack on all of Iran’s nuclear development facilities with the goal of completely destroying them, have been offered. An alternate proposal has been surgical strikes at key targets in their program. These direct attacks have been in addition to plans for selectively eliminating key program personnel, such as the scientists that have been killed. Imposing ever increasing economic sanctions on Iran has been tried and failed to succeed in moving the country pursue talks the goal of which is preventing Iran from building nuclear weapons. Even when the offers from Iran’s “friends” such as Russia and China to do the refining of nuclear material Iran says it wants only for power generation or medical treatment is included in proposals; Iran has flatly vetoed anything that would prevent them from achieving the goal of making nuclear weapons.

Iran’s intransigence has frustrated all and any parties that have tried to become involved in some peaceful resolution to the situation. Neither the carrot of nuclear cooperation with major nuclear players nor the stick in increased sanctions has induced Iran into productive negotiations. Whether Iran is merely stalling or truly unchangeably committed to achieving the goal of nuclear weapons, is known only in the inner circles of the Tehran government and theocracy. Meanwhile Iran continues steadfastly to continue on its path of increasing its nuclear refining capabilities aimed at producing bomb grade nuclear material; while some of the world’s most powerful nations, who do a lot of business with Iran, say they are trying to figure out what to do that will work. It raises the question of whether they are truly trying to prevent Iran’s nuclear goal or are really assisting in delaying any worldwide unified military action to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

The use of high tech computer hacking into the Iranian nuclear program has only produced temporary delays and relatively minor damage to their facilities. Short of open military attack on Iran’s known nuclear projects, the killing of their programs key scientists seems to be the only possible way of disrupting their nuclear goals, short of open warfare. But this too only provides a temporary delay, not a solution to an ongoing problem that will, absent a conclusive resolution, inevitably lead to Iran achieving its desired goal of having nuclear weapons.

The discussion of the need, effectiveness and appropriateness in the moral sense, of the assassinations of Iranian scientists, has provided opportunity for various parties to express outrage, muted disapproval or open support for these actions. Iran and its few allies have of course expressed outrage along with broad accusations as to blame. Most other international entities have either avoided comment or proclaim the standard general disapproval of the killing of these scientists. They base their disapproval on either; the scientists being civilians or a lack of absolute proof that Iran is developing nuclear weapons and may very well use them against Israel and/or the U.S.

The first reason that, these scientists are not the ones who will point to weapons at Iran’s enemies, is a non-starter. During the Second World War the allies didn’t draw the distinction between the scientists working at the German rocket works at Peenemunde and the Luftwaffe that was planning on shooting them at the allies. All of Germany’s war enabling capabilities were targeted, whether manned by civilian, military or even slave labor personnel. In a dictatorial regime such as Iran, anyone working on government projects that presents a threat to another nation is a legitimate target.

The second reason, is Iran really trying to make a nuclear weapon? and the corollary, will it be used against Israel and/or the U.S.?, is also mostly an answered question. Virtually every governmental and independent authority are in agreement that everything about Iran’s approach and process in its nuclear program is aimed at producing nuclear weapons. As to whether achieving this goal is just a gambit to enhance it perception in the Muslim world as one of, if not the biggest player in the game or might it truly be used against Israel, the U.S. or even Saudi Arabia to force the Muslim world and the rest of the world into accepting Iran as the leader of the world dominating Caliphate Iran has long dreamed of and proposed; is a question some people say needs further thought.

But considering the oft threatened likelihood that Israel might be the first target of Iran’s Middle East/Central Asia power grab; can the Israeli’s really afford to adopt a watch and wait policy? In the circumstances Israel has always found itself in, seriously outnumbered and out gunned, facing credible threats of annihilation, lacking any nearby allies or even friends; what kind of chances can the government of Israel reasonably be expected to take with the lives of their citizens? Can Israel really depend on Russia or China to pressure Iran in ways that they are capable of, to forswear developing nuclear weapons? Can Israel count on a United Europe to pull out all the stops against Iran to force them into acquiescing to international demands? Or will the Europeans revert to form and cave in at the thought of an Iranian disruption of their oil supply and try to pressure Israel into accepting a nuclear Iran? Will the United States step up, as all of its political leadership, on all sides of the aisle, has consistently said, and stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel when it’s crunch time and Iran is about to complete it first nuclear test? Will the U.S. aid, assist or at least not hinder Israel, should the U.S. be consulted about a pending Israeli strike in force against Iran’s nuclear facilities? Or will the U.S. use its considerable economic aid leverage and attempt force Israel into trusting a U.S. backed plan of containment to keep Israel safe?

Granted containment did work in the case of the Soviet Union and appears to be working to so far prevent any atavistic plans China has. But these were and are developing nations who were succeeding and growing and needed the U.S. as a trade partner. Iran is not developing in the same way; they are living under a 15th Century theocracy. Iran is focused on using their vast oil wealth to influence, undermine or dominate their fellow Muslim states, with the goal of being the 21th Century’s leader of their self styled Caliphate. Iran isn’t dependant on doing business with the U.S., world’s largest economy, for anything; we don’t trade with Iran. The influence of Israel’s most important ally is virtually nil when it comes to Iran. In fact having the U.S., which the Iranian government still calls “the Great Satan” as its ally allows Iran to connect its enemy the U.S. with Israel as part of its message of enmity towards all things Western. This is a trick played by many Muslim states to distract its people from the poverty and totalitarianism they are forced to live under. But Iran has raised the demonization of the West, the U.S. and Israel in particular as the cause of all Muslim troubles, to a level that truly defies all reason and truth.

This false premise that Israel, in particular, and the West in general has been the touchstone of all the calls, excuses and rationalizations for Muslim terrorism for the past sixty years. Israel itself has even been accused of acts of terrorism by its enemies. But an objective look at Israel’s actions against its enemies, as compared and contrasted to Muslim actions against Israel and its other enemies, points out some clear and defining differences. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is a result of Israel’s winning of the Six Day War in 1967, after the unprovoked attacked by several Muslim nations, including the Palestinian territory of the West Bank. After its victory, Israel occupied the territory of several of its attackers, as is a common outcome of military conflict. Israel historically negotiated with all but one of its attackers and the result was the return of virtually all the territory Israel occupied during the war. The one exception of course are the Palestinians who have refused to complete an oft started negotiations process. But the results of these negotiations unfortunately has also often been in the end rejected by the Palestinians. Israel isn’t a terrorist state, although it is an occupying entity. Palestinian civilians are not randomly targeted for acts of indiscriminate homicide. School bus stops, public markets, non-combatants out for a Sunday drive, tourists, citizens within territorial borders and other innocents are not randomly attacked by Israelis; but they are in by Palestinian terrorists, thousands of times over the years. Israel has not acted as a terrorist but Iran is in many ways the creator of much of the world’s terrorism. Much of the terrorism against Israel and worldwide has been paid for and assisted in many ways by the government of Iran. Iran has been the most pro-active nation in supporting, encouraging and funding the world of international Muslim terrorism aimed at Israel, the U.S. and the West. It is now the country that poses the largest threat to Israel, U.S., and world safety, and is developing the ultimate threat. Terrorism and the threat of terrorism is a key part of the current nature of war. And Israel has been on the frontline and the main target of that war since the day it can into being.

Can a country that is the central bank of international terrorism be expected to be a reliable partner in nuclear non-proliferation negotiations? Can a country that is lead by a Holocaust denier and blatant anti-Semite and his theocrat backers, one which also has plans of pan-Muslim domination, be trusted not to attack Israel as an illustrative example of its power? Can the Israelis take that kind of a chance? Or should they do whatever they can to stall, interfere with, stymie, and ultimately stop Iran from achieving its extremely dangerous goal of having nuclear weapons capabilities?

In circumstances with an unthinkable outcome if Israel doesn’t do absolutely everything it can to protect itself; killing Iranian scientists who are working to enable the Iranian’s plan, is very small, logical and reasonable part of Israel’s defensive plans. It is entirely understandable and supportable because it is also virtually necessary for a worthwhile good; the protection of innocents.


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