UPDATE: Robert Baer, the long-time senior CIA officer who spent 21 years working the Middle East, was on MSNBC's 'Hardball' this evening saying that he believes Israel is assassinating Iranian scientists in an attempt to provoke Iran to fight back and draw the US into a full-scale war.
Earlier today, Baer made the same case to the Guardian/UK:
Baer argues that the impact on the nuclear program itself is likely to be so minimal, it is unlikely to be the aim of the murder campaign.
"It's a provocation," he says. "My theory is that Israel couldn't get the White House to agree to bombing. It is not satisfied with sanctions, so the Israelis are trying to provoke the Iranians into launching a missile and starting a war."
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UPDATE: The White House says President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talked today amid tensions over the killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran. Iranian authorities blame Israel for the attack on the scientist, who was killed by a bomb attached to his car. The U.S. has denied any role.
A White House statement on Thursday's phone call didn't say whether they discussed the scientist's death. It said Obama and Netanyahu "discussed recent Iran-related developments." Obama "reaffirmed his commitment to the goal of a comprehensive and lasting peace in the region" and "reiterated his unshakable commitment to Israel’s security."
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Russia Warns of US Strike on Iran
Agence France-Presse reports:
Russian Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev warned that military escalation is likely in Iran, with “real danger” of a US strike, in an interview published on Thursday.
He added that Syria, which has refused to break its ties with Tehran, could also be a target for Western intervention.
“There is a likelihood of military escalation of the conflict, and Israel is pushing the Americans towards it,” Mr Patrushev said in an interview published on the website of the daily Kommersant.
“There is a real danger of a US military strike on Iran,” the senior Russian security official said.
“At present, the US sees Iran as its main problem. They are trying to turn Tehran from an enemy into a supportive partner, and to achieve this, to change the current regime by whatever means,” he added.
“They use both economic embargo and massive help to the opposition forces.”
Mr Patrushev said that “for years we have been hearing that the Iranians are going to create an atomic bomb, (but) still nobody has proved the existence of a military component of Iran’s nuclear program.”
Iran said on Wednesday it had firm evidence that “foreign quarters” were behind the killing of four Iranian nuclear experts and demanded UN Security Council condemnation of the deaths.
Meanwhile, a second US aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, has arrived in the Gulf region, the Pentagon has said, calling the move "routine" and denying any link to mounting tensions with Iran.
Backed by a cruiser, destroyer and with almost 80 planes and helicopters on board, the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group "arrived in the US 5th Fleet area of responsibility (AOR)" on January 9," a Fifth Fleet statement said.
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The Jerusalem Post reports:
Iran Warns of 'Cross-Border' Bombing Response
Iranian security official is quoted as saying those responsible for killing scientist "will never feel safe."
Iran's response to the assassination of a nuclear scientist in Iran Wednesday will be harsh and reach beyond borders, a website aligned with the regime in Tehran quoted a senior security source as saying Thursday.
Those who gave the order for the assassination, the source was quoted by "RajaNews" as saying, "will never feel safe," adding that Iran has a cross-border, cross-regional strategy for striking back. He said that the West and Israel were behind the attacks in Iran.
Agence France-Presse reports:
Furious Iran Wants Action over Scientist's Killing
The assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist sparked deep fury in Tehran on Thursday against prime suspect Israel and against the United States, which said it had nothing to do with the murder.
Some hardline newspapers even called for retaliatory action, with one, Keyhan, saying in an editorial that "assassinations of Israeli officials and military are achievable." [...]
The latest attack dominated Iran's media on Thursday, with many outlets criticizing what they said was the silence of the West over the killings. More conservative titles urged tit-for-tat covert action against Israel.
"The only way to finish with the enemy's futile actions is retaliation for the assassination of Iran's scientist," said the newspaper Resalat.
"It is legal under international law to retaliate for the killing of the nuclear scientist," the daily Keyhan said. "The Islamic republic has gathered much experience in 32 years, thus assassinations of Israeli officials and military members are achievable."
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Assassinations Won't Work
Debora MacKenzie writing in the New Scientist today:
Costs of Killing Iran's Nuclear Scientists
The Doomsday Clock – the famous gauge of the world's risk of nuclear annihilation, run by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) – moved a minute closer to midnight on Tuesday. Then on Wednesday, another nuclear physicist was assassinated in Iran. Both events reveal a global nuclear situation that seems to be worsening fast.
On Wednesday morning a motorcycle rider stuck a magnetic bomb onto the car of Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan Behdast, a chemist at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant who was working on gas separation membranes. The scientist was killed by the blast.[...]
"Nuclear scientists are not terrorists," says Tobey in the BAS this week. Killing them at best delays bomb development, by removing key people and perhaps deterring young scientists from careers in nuclear science. But it will not stop bomb development.
These slim advantages are far outweighed, Tobey says, by the downsides: possible retaliation, reduced chances for diplomacy, tighter security around nuclear installations and a pretext for Iran to hamper IAEA monitoring.
Iran has already accused the IAEA of abetting the assassinations by publicizing confidential Iranian lists of key nuclear scientists and engineers.
The New York Times today quotes Gary Sick, a specialist on Iran at Columbia, who said he believed that the covert campaign, combined with sanctions, would not persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear work.
“It’s important to turn around and ask how the U.S. would feel if our revenue was being cut off, our scientists were being killed and we were under cyberattack,” Mr. Sick said. “Would we give in, or would we double down? I think we’d fight back, and Iran will, too.”
And John Hudson, writing for The Atlantic says:
The preponderance of evidence suggests Israel carried out the attack, with the possible assistance of the US. [...]
In an odd move, raising more questions than answers, Israel's chief military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai wrote on his Facebook page "Don’t know who settled the score with the Iranian scientist, but for sure I am not shedding a tear.” According to The Washington Post, the comment "sparked a debate on his page, with some readers saying he should be more discreet."
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'Merely Targeted Killings' or Terrorism?
Glenn Greenwald writing today on Salon:
In the few venues which yesterday denounced as “Terrorism” the ongoing assassinations of Iranian scientists, there was intense backlash against the invocation of that term. Terrorism is the most meaningless — and thus most manipulated — term of propaganda; it’s always what They do and never what We do.That always happens whenever “Terrorism” is applied to acts likely undertaken by Israel, the U.S. or its allies — rather than its traditional use: violence by Muslims against the U.S. and its allies — because accusing Israel and/or the U.S. of Terrorism remains one of the greatest political taboos (even when the acts in question involve not only assassinations but also explosions which kill numerous victims whose identities could not have been known in advance). But the case of these scientist assassinations particularly highlights how meaningless and manipulated this term is.
The prime argument against calling these scientists killings “Terrorism” is that targeted killings — as opposed to indiscriminate ones — cannot qualify. After Andrew Sullivan wrote a post entitled “The Terrorism We Support” and rhetorically asked: “is not the group or nation responsible for the murder of civilians in another country terrorists?”, and then separately criticized the NYT for failing to describe these killings as Terrorism, numerous readers objected to the use of this term on the ground that a targeted killing cannot be Terrorism. Similarly, after I noted yesterday that Kevin Drum had denounced as “Terrorism” a right-wing blogger’s 2007 suggestion that Iran’s scientists be murdered and asked if he still applies that term to whoever is actually doing it now, he wrote a post (either coincidentally on his own or in response) strongly implying that this is Terrorism; thereafter, commenter after commenter at Mother Jones vehemently disagreed, on the same ground, with Drum’s suggestion that this is Terrorism (many agreed the term did apply). Meanwhile, Jason Pontin, the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Technology Review, actually claimed that my use of the term Terrorism to describe these scientist killings is “what turns sober, hardnosed people from the Left” (he’s apparently been elected the spokesman for “sober hardnosed people” turning away from the Left), and then proceeded to insist over and over that these are merely targeted killings, not Terrorism.
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Iran Leader Rails Against 'Heartless' US Capitalism
FoxNews Latino reports on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to Cuba on Wednesday on the third leg of a four country Latin America tour.
At the university, the Iranian leader railed against the United States and its allies and said heartless capitalism is the root cause of war.
"Thankfully we are already witnessing that the capitalist system is in decay," Ahmadinejad said. "On various stages it has come to a dead end — politically, economically and culturally."
"You see that when it lacks logic, they turn to weapons to kill and destroy," he added.