On the morning of January 11, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a 32-year-old chemist from Sharif University in Tehran, was riding in a Peugeot 405 along Shahid Golnabi Street in eastern Tehran. As his car inched through the morning rush-hour traffic, two men on motorcycles approached Roshan’s vehicle, attached a magnetic bomb to the side of the car, and raced off just before the Peugeot and its prominent passenger were blown to bits. Roshan — who was also deputy director for commercial affairs at Iran’s Natanz nuclear reactor — had just become the latest victim of an apparent covert campaign of assassination targeting high-profile Iranian scientists allegedly involved in the Islamic republic’s controversial nuclear program.
Tehran, already furious at the latest attempt by the United States and her allies to impose sanctions on Iranian oil exports, immediately accused the CIA and Israel of being behind the killing. Against a backdrop of economic sanctions and Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, Iranian-U.S. relations have probably reached a low not seen since the 1979-1981 hostage crisis. Suddenly a war between Iran and the West, long threatened but not seriously contemplated, is looking more and more likely.
Low-level conflict with the Iranians is certainly nothing new. During the 1980s, while Iran was locked in a protracted struggle with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the Reagan administration provided military escorts for oil tankers to protect them from the Iranian navy. In a number of skirmishes, Iranian boats were sunk and oil rigs destroyed by the American military. In one tragic accident, the American guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes shot down Iran Air flight 655 on July 3, 1988, killing all 290 civilians aboard.
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