1. Many people believe that there is shadowy war going on between Iran and Israel. Would you say that Israel is really attacking Iranian scientists and Iran is retaliating or not, and why?
2. Should we be afraid of the escalation?
Barbara Slavin, Senior Fellow, The Atlantic Council
1. There is a shadow war between Iran and Israel and it’s been going on for a very long time. Several new books assert that Israel was involved in the computer viruses infecting Iran’s nuclear installations as well as in the assassination of 5 scientists related to the nuclear program.
Iranians have been arrested for attacks and attempted attacks on Israelis in Thailand, India, Georgia and Cyprus and may have been involved in the recent killing of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria.
2. There is always a chance for escalation but in my view, we will not see a major Israeli strike on Iran at least not until after US presidential elections. There is too much opposition within the Israeli defense and intelligence establishment to such strikes. Also, the Obama administration is opposed. A massive Israeli attack on Iran would make Iran look the victim and further isolate Israel in the region. Iran is containable. So the shadow war will continue.
Michael Rubin, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Senior Lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations
1. Israel is one subject among many. There have been enough inconsistencies in Iranian explanations to the IAEA and also enough threats from various Iranian officials over the years that most Israeli officials consider an Iranian nuclear breakout to pose an existential threat.
Still, Saudi Arabia and the other oil-wealthy Arab states are as opposed to an Iranian nuclear break-out and also involve themselves in spy-versus-spy games.
The only thing which is certain is that the lifespan of Iranian nuclear scientists is dropping precipitously, and Iran accuses Israel.
2. Well, frankly, the worst case scenario would be doing nothing an allowing the Islamic Republic to get a nuclear weapon. It would also be wrong to assume that this is merely a cycle of tit-for-tat violence. After all, Iranian terrorism existed long before the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, so it would be wrong to ascribe Iranian targeting of Israelis and, more broadly, Jews to the nuclear dispute. At its root, the problem is the ideology which motivates those who would control the Iranian nuclear arsenal.
Rouzbeh Parsi, Research Fellow, The European Union Institute for Security Studies
1. By now it’s ‘almost’ confirmed that Israel is complicit in the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. This is what they themselves, in a round about way, state (or want us to believe in any case). The Iranian most certainly would want to strike back, Whether they have done so yet is an open question. The Israeli PM’s accusations that the bomb in Bulgaria was the work of Iran is more propaganda than a factual statement. He has yet to furnish any verifiable facts to make his case. The bomb in Bulgaria is now part of the rhetorical warfare between them, and as any such incident up for grabs in strengthening the narrative of either side in their attempts to bully and tarnish the other side. See for instance the claim that the Iranian President had somehow taken responsibility for the bombing in a speech he gave recently (which of course turned out to be false).
The Iranian claim of breaking up cells here and there could have a grain of truth to them but then espionage is an accusation thrown around liberally in Tehran and the judiciary in Iran is, to say the least, less than reliable in its handling of these cases so I would want to see much more info before believing any of it.
2. Yes we should. because this kind of game you may start but once it’s on no one is in the position to shut it down and the possible ramifications of intended consequences, let alone UNINTENDED ones, are very difficult to foresee and contain.
Jamsheed Choksy, Professor of Iranian Studies in Department of Central Eurasian Studies, Indiana University
1. Comments by members of the governments and agencies of the United States of America and of Israel suggest (though there is no official confirmation) that for now both those nations are engaging in covert actions against Iranian nuclear facilities, computers, and scientists, in addition to the well-known economic sanctions, rather than resorting to military strikes, in attempts to at most dissuade and at least slow down Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Those actions, including computer viruses and perhaps personnel eliminations, have taken a toll on Iranian nuclear advances but have not halted the atomic quest. Nor have those actions produced any clarity whether Iranian leaders have decided to actually produce nuclear weapons, advance only to breakout capability, or limit themselves to civilian uses as they constantly claim. Available evidence–including that gathered by the International Atomic Energy Agency–points to the Iranian government continuing slow but steady progress in its nuclear program, including nuclear weapons capability if it chooses to assemble such devices, plus enhancing missile delivery systems for such payloads. So foreign nations turning to non-conflagrational methods to deter the Iranian government is not surprising. Likewise, the Islamic Republic’s special forces have been linked directly and through proxies such as Hezbollah to several successful and thwarted terrorist activities around the globe–in the U.S., E.U., and elsewhere against not only American, Israeli, and European targets but even against its geographical neighbors. Moreover, prominent Iranian politicians and generals have publicly spoken of retaliating against the U.S., E.U., and Israel for the incursions of computer viruses and the deaths of scientists. Iranian authorities also claim to have broken up spy rings supposedly linked to the U.S. and Israel. The attacks against Iran’s adversaries come on the heels of all these threats and allegations and therefore add to the suspicion that Tehran is behind them.
2. Yes, such actions by all the nations involved bear the distinct risk of escalation. Computer worms and viruses, especially state-sponsored electronic warfare, can escalate back and forth–eventually leading to major economic and civic service disruptions which could even cost lives (even if small in number compared with those caused by conventional wars). Likewise, as tensions mount, the prospect of conventional warfare breaking out rise–whether pre-planned or inadvertently. Alas, the situation seems to have reached a diplomatic impasse which raises the risk of more covert actions and even overt warfare between Iran versus Israel, the U.S., and the E.U.