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Was Israel behind Iran nuclear scientist's assassination?

While yesterday's assassination of an Iran nuclear scientist may risk an escalation of hostilities, analysts say the calculation would make sense for Israel.

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In this photo provided by the semi-official Fars News Agency, people gather around a car as it is removed by a mobile crane in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 11. Two assailants on a motorcycle attached magnetic bombs to the car of an Iranian university professor working at a key nuclear facility, killing him and wounding two people on Wednesday, a semiofficial news agency reported.

Meghdad Madadi/Fars News Agency/AP

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Israel has emerged as a key suspect in the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran yesterday, thought to be the latest strike in a covert war that has targeted technicians, military plants, and computer systems at the heart of Islamic Republic’s uranium enrichment program.

While Israel has maintained its official policy of ambiguity, analysts here say that Israel's Mossad is very likely involved in a joint venture among foreign intelligence agencies that want to ratchet up pressure on Iran as new economic sanctions bite. They also suggest that while such attacks may risk an escalation of hostilities, the calculation makes sense for the Jewish state, faced with the potential threat of a nuclear-armed enemy in its neighborhood.

Few believe that the strikes will ultimately deny Iran of its goal of nuclear capability, but observers credit the covert campaign with slowing down Iran’s nuclear progress over years, giving more time for diplomats and pushing back the possibility of a military strike.

"If anyone has a strategy to slow down the process, it’s a wise strategy,’’ says Meir Elram, a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies who considers assassinations as a legitimate tool in the fight against Iran. "If you weigh it against the risks, compared to an all-out assault on Iranian installations, it’s a much more measured and perhaps constructive tactic in the long run."

Experts suggest that those responsible for the attack might be more than one foreign intelligence agency as well as local groups in Iran opposed to the Islamist regime.

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