Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Two Begin Doctrines

Menachem Begin had two doctrines, one of which has been put into play with yesterday's assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist who also happened to be an outspoken opponent the current Iranian government.

We're just not sure which one.

Either we are dealing with:

1) the legacy of the Osirak reactor bombing of 1981 and the attack on the reactor in Syria two years ago - the principle that Israel must do anything and everything to prevent an aggressive neighbor from obtaining nuclear weapons capacity.

2) Or, Begin's famous (or infamous) quote following the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp massacre, "Goyim kill goyim and the Jews get blamed." In the case of Lebanon, there was some responsibility on Israel's part, since it controlled the area where the camps were situated.  In this case, however, what is quite possible is that the Iranian government saw a chance to knock off an prime opponent and blame Israel for the killing.  Given what we now know about the victim, this is the far more likely scenario.

According to this PBS Frontline report, Masoud Ali-Mohammadi was apparently not involved with Iran's nuclear program at all.  But he was very involved in supporting the Iranian opposition.  So this would seem to be an open and shut case.  Why would Mossad expend its resources on someone so peripheral to the nuclear effort?  Israel has been linked to other assassinations, including Ardeshir Hassanpour, a prominent and award-winning figure in Iran's nuclear program, who was murdered on January 15, 2007. 

So why, then are the Israelis being tight lipped about it.  It's one thing to refuse comment on all such matters, but this would not be a proper time for that knowing wink.  Israel is not on the front burner of Iranian reformists, and it would be best not to antagonize them at such a sensitive time.

The question arises: If Ali-Mohammadi had been central to the weaponization effort, would such a killing have been ethical?  See the blog posting "Ethics and Assassinations" regarding Israel's campaign of killing terror leaders. Any responsible government has the right, indeed the duty, to protect its citizens.  The question is whether an Iranian nuclear scientist qualifies as a terrorist, and what distinguishes him from, say, a doctor who performs late-term abortions, in the eyes of the militant pro-lifer.

This is a growing field of ethical study, highlighted by such recent films as "Munich," and books like Elie Wiesel's "Dawn."  My own feeling is that if the West can delay Iran's nuclear quest, which poses an existential threat to several nations and puts millions of lives at risk, targeted assassination is justified.

But Ali-Mohammadi was not the right target.

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