Wait. Wait and watch the analyses of others.
Throughout the day, Iranian state media beat out a steady rhythm. Ali-Mohammadi was a worthy "revolutionary" for the Islamic Republic, who was involved with its nuclear programme. He had been murdered by "anti-revolutionaries" and "enemies" as part of the plot to overthrow the Republic. The only distinction in the coverage was whether Ali-Mohammadi's assassins were monarchists or members of the "terrorist" Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MKO).
Latest Iran Video: The Leverett Line on Killing of Professor Ali-Mohammadi (13 January)
Latest Iran Video: How State Media Frames Killing of “Nuclear” Professor (12 January)
The Latest from Iran (12 January): The Killing of the Professor
As there was no evidence for this line --- apart from an assertion that the "Iran Royal Association" had taken responsibility for the assassination, a report immediately denied by the group --- any analysis based on it is spurious. What is more interesting is that the Iranian regime's declarations were echoed by another source: Israel.
DEBKAfile, the website linked to Israeli Government and private sources, should always be read for misinformation and "spin" rather than straight-up analysis. So it was intriguing that the site quickly posted:
The covert war against Iran's nuclear program struck deep inside the Islamic Republic with the death Tuesday, Jan. 12 of nuclear physicist professor Masoud Ali Mohammadi, 50, by a remote-controlled exploding motorbike as he left his Tehran home. He was a senior professor at Tehran University which DEBKAfile's Iranian sources say is an important hub of nuclear weapons research....
Iranian authorities see Mohammadi's death as ramping up the Western effort to recruit, intimidate or liquidate the brains behind Iran's nuclear progress and a warning
Meir Javedanfar, the Israel-based analyst whose readings are given more weight in the "mainstream" than the assertions of DEBKAfile, was not as definitive in The Guardian. However, he started from the premise that Ali-Mohammadi was in Iran's nuclear programme, and all his scenarios were of "foreign" hands in the killing. After putting forth the MKO option, he got to his argument:
It is also possible that Mohammadi was assassinated by a foreign intelligence agency. Should that be the case, this recent incident comes amid a series of setbacks for [Iran's] Oghab-2 counter-intelligence bureau.
There is evidence of an Israeli covert programme, supported by the US, to disrupt Iran's nuclear development through kidnappings and killings. However, there is no evidence that Mohammadi was a target. Instead, throughout yesterday, the public record put forth, mainly through activists searching the Internet, was not of a nuclear scientist. Ali-Mohammadi was a professor of particle physics who had published dozens of academic papers and had an international reputation in his field (see HomyLafayette's blog for a summary). Indeed, Ali-Mohammadi was even involved in a multi-national project which brought contact with Israeli colleagues:
The regional research project in which Ali-Mohammadi participated, along with other scientists from Iran, Israel and various Middle Eastern countries, is called Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East, or SESAME. It is based in Jordan and operates under United Nations auspices. Iranian and foreign scientists said the project has applications in industry, medicine, nanotechnology and other fields unrelated to nuclear power.
The Iranian and Israeli participation in the project is unusual because the two countries have had no ties since the 1979 Islamic revolution, and Iran refuses to recognize the Israeli government. Palestinian scientists also participate in the SESAME project, whose last meeting was held in November in Jordan.
So why this Israel-first line for the murder, for which (again) there is no evidence yet, out of Israel?
To show that it can. The message to Tehran: if you pursue your nuclear programme, we will get you. Possibly not through military action, since the US Government has objected, but through covert disruption. No one in that programme is safe.
In other words, it is irrelevant whether Mohammadi was a nuclear scientist. It is besides the point that Israel may not have had any role in the murder. Just the possibility is enough for a bit of psychological warfare against Tehran.
The problem with this too-clever-by-half spin is that it plays into the hands of those in the Iranian regime whose first priority is not necessarily the nuclear option but crushing internal opposition. The US Government, which is not as keen as Israel to be seen as a covert threat to Iran's ambitions, is staying well away from the line put out by DEBKAfile and Javedanfar as well as Iranian state media, calling the assertions "absurd". In a curious but convenient alliance, therefore, Tehran will be quite happy for Israeli "analysts" to put out the We Might Have Done It story.
But what of the Iranian opposition who might be affected by that story? That brings us to a far different scenario and spin, put out by elements of that opposition, that Ali-Mohammadi was killed by agents of the regime. Muhammad Sahimi of Tehran Bureau, picking up on the fact that Ali-Mohammadi supported the Presidential candidacy of Mir Hossein Mousavi and the assertion that the physicist had become a vocal critic of the Government, offers an example:
Given that Professor Ali-Mohammadi was apparently well informed about many of the IRGC [Revolutionary Guard] projects, and was a prominent academic supporter of the reformists and the Green Movement, and given also his prominence, his murder would send a message to others, particularly the academics, that the hardliners may have started a campaign of assassination in order to silence the opposition -- that is if the hardliners were behind the assassination.
Another characteristic of the hardliners is that they never forgive anyone who deserts them and joins the opposition. The deserters are usually dealt with much more harshly than bona fide members of the opposition. This only adds to the suspicion that the hardliners may have had something to do with Professor Ali-Mohammadi's murder....
If the assassination signals a new campaign by the hardliners, Iran may be moving toward becoming a second Pakistan, where the military and intelligence services eliminate the opposition with impunity and make the country even more unstable than it already is.
The truth is that, for all these scenarios and purported analyses, we do not know who is responsible for yesterday's murder.
What is most important this morning is that a man has been assassinated. What is significant is many participants in conflicts inside and outside Iran --- the regime, the Green movement, Israel --- will use that death to gain political advantage.