The Iranian commander of the Cyber War Headquarters has been assassinated by two unidentified assailants on motorbikes, in a mysterious killing that bears the hallmarks of previous assassinations of Iranian officials that most experts suspect Israel of carrying out.
Mojtaba Ahmadi, who served as commander of the Cyber War Headquarters, was found dead in a wooded area near the town of Karaj, north-west of the capital, Tehran. Five Iranian nuclear scientists and the head of the country’s ballistic missile programme have been killed since 2007. The regime has accused Israel’s external intelligence agency, the Mossad, of carrying out these assassinations.
The last assassination occurred in January of last year, when one of Iran’s top chemists “who worked in the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz” was blown up with an explosive device attached to his car. The incident was met with rising criticism and suspicion of both Israel and the United States. Some even accused the U.S. of being complicit in the killings, which is presumably what prompted U.S. officials to anonymously disclose to NBC News that Israel’s Mossad ordered the assassinations to be carried out by a proxy group, the Iranian dissident group MEK.
Alternatively, CBS reporter Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, a former intelligence correspondent for Haaretz, write in their book “Spies Against Armageddon” that Mossad agents themselves are the ones carrying out the assassinations.
This latest killing, which, keep in mind, is nothing short of international terrorism, comes at an interesting time. Newly elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has made historic diplomatic overtures to the United States and the Obama administration has been somewhat receptive to it, culminating in the unprecedented direct phone call between Rouhani and Obama last week.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vehemently opposes U.S.-Iranian détente, as made clear in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly in which he all but vowed to bomb Iran with or without the U.S.
“Netanyahu will likely dedicate himself to derailing any prospect for a diplomatic breakthrough,” writes Daniel Levy, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation.
Is this how he has chosen to do it?
Absent somebody blowing the whistle with some hard evidence, we won’t get confirmation of Israeli involvement. Israeli officials will issue their boilerplate, deliberately ambiguous public statements and everybody will just nod, with perhaps some hardline commentators suggesting such actions are legitimate. He was the commander of the Cyber War Headquarters, they’ll emphasize.
The Obama administration has been actively drawing up lists of targets to hit in their ongoing cyber warfare program, according to documents leaked by Edward Snowden. Are the officials carrying out that program fair game for China to covertly assassinate? Of course not. Imagine the U.S. reaction (hint: it wouldn’t be anything like Iran’s non-reaction to these assassinations).
Neither is it legitimate for Israel to continue to murder civilian scientists and government officials in Iran.
If this incident prompts a harsh reaction from Iran’s political hardliners, then it could very well begin to unravel the work that’s been done to thaw the U.S.-Iran relationship. And Netanyahu will get exactly what he wanted (see here for why he wants it).
Update: It’s important to note that officials in Iran have cautioned against speculating on whether this was an actual assassination perpetrated by foreign forces.