Editor's Note: Juliette Kayyem is a former Assistant Secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, a lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government and a foreign policy columnist for the Boston Globe. She tweets @JulietteKayyem.
By Juliette Kayyem
The killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan was just another salvo in more aggressive covert war heating up between Iran and the West. There should be little doubt the U.S. had nothing to do with it; we have condemned the killings, and rightfully so. Of all the efforts to stop Iran's nuclear program, killing scientists is not only the least productive, it may actually backfire.
“It is difficult to imagine a country having a scientific infrastructure large enough to support a nuclear weapons program, but too small to sustain a viable effort after the loss of even several individuals,’’ William Tobey, a former nuclear expert who has served in senior positions in the U.S. government, recently wrote in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Even allowing for the fact that atomic scientists have a vested interest in minimizing the significance of atomic scientists to deter assassinations, a few deaths here or there isn’t going to change history.
The ultimate goal of the global community shouldn’t be blocking Iran’s nuclear program for the time being - it should be ending Iran’s urgent desire to create nuclear weapons. That will require a diplomatic solution, not some admittedly masterful killing of a guy with the unimpressive title "deputy director for commercial affairs."
The thinking behind these killings is dangerously simplistic, as if Tehran’s nuclear ambitions were dependent on a single scholar just out of grad school. Nuclear programs, after all, are large and expensive efforts involving hundreds of people. Just maybe, one or two killings could delay the efforts.
Ahmadi-Roshan was likely as expendable to the Iranians as he was to whoever plotted his death. That suggests why Iran seems so incapable of protecting its allegedly high-value scientists. He was, in the end, of no consequence to the real issues at play. His murder should be condemned because it is brutal and gets us no closer to a meaningful resolution of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Any sense of victory is as fleeting as the very men who placed magnetic bombs on the sides of Ahmadi-Roshan’s gray Peugeot 405 as they passed it on a crowded Tehran street just a few days ago.