by Yossi Melman
Israel is assassinating Iranian nuclear
scientists as part of a covert war against the Islamic Republic's illicit
weapons program, the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday quoted Western
intelligence analysts as saying.
The British daily said Israel's Mossad espionage agency was rumored to be
behind the death of Ardeshire Hassanpour, a top nuclear scientist at
Iran's Isfahan uranium plant, who died in mysterious circumstances from
reported "gas poisoning" in 2007.
Other recent deaths of important figures in the procurement and enrichment
process in Iran and Europe have been the result of Israeli "hits", intended
to deprive Tehran of key technical skills at the head of the program,
according to the analysts.
The Telegraph also quoted United States intelligence sources as
saying Israel is using sabotage, front companies and double agents to
disrupt the regime's illicit weapons project as an alternative to direct
Nevertheless, it should be noted that Israel has been carrying out similar
covert activities for about a decade, ever since Iran was first suspected of
seeking nuclear weapons. The U.S. journalist James Risen has written
recently that the CIA and the Mossad have planned together a
number of sabotage operations against the Iranian program, including
damaging power lines to nuclear sites in order to cause harm to computer
systems and equipment.
The Telegraph also quoted Israeli officials as privately
acknowledging the new U.S. administration is unlikely to sanction an air
attack on Iran's nuclear installations and that President
Obama's offer to extend a hand of peace to Tehran puts any
direct military action beyond reach for now.
As such, the reported goal of Israel's covert campaign is to delay or
interrupt the Iranian research program, without engaging in a direct
confrontation that could lead to a wider war.
"Disruption is designed to slow progress on
the program, done in such a way that they don't realize what's
happening. You are never going to stop it," a former CIA officer on Iran
was quoted as saying.
"The goal is delay, delay, delay until you can come up with some other
solution or approach," he added. "We certainly don't want the current
Iranian government to have those weapons. It's a good policy, short of
taking them out militarily, which probably carries unacceptable risks."
Reva Bhalla, a senior analyst with
Stratfor, the U.S. private intelligence company with strong government
security connections, was quoted by the paper as saying the strategy was to
take out key people.
"With co-operation from the United States,
Israeli covert operations have focused both on eliminating key human
assets involved in the nuclear program and in sabotaging the Iranian
nuclear supply chain," she was quoted as saying.
"As US-Israeli relations are bound to come under strain over the Obama
administration's outreach to Iran, and as the political atmosphere grows
in complexity, an intensification of Israeli covert activity against
Iran is likely to result."