Rather than the alleged U.S. and Israeli covert operators being called terrorists, it is the Iranian scientists who are the criminals. They must be stopped before they kill.
It’s not hard to understand that assassinating people with the goal of affecting or changing the policy of another government is one of the legal definitions of terrorism. Paul Pillar explained this earlier today:
The killing of an individual foreigner overseas, if carried out for a political or policy purpose by either a nonstate actor or clandestine agents of a state, is an act of international terrorism. At least that is how U.S. law defines it, for purposes such as the State Department’s annual reports on terrorism.
Greenwald’s argued in his most recent post that an act that is treated as terrorism when committed by another government or group, but it is not treated as terrorism when it is committed by the U.S. or client states. Tobin’s statement is a perfect example of this double standard. The latest scientist slain in Iran was not committing any crimes that anyone can prove, but he was killed anyway on the grounds that he was part of a nuclear program that other governments cannot prove is being used to develop nuclear weapons. In Tobin’s view, the victim was the criminal, and no doubt the people who ordered and carried out the hit are to be praised for their good work.
Tobin takes for granted that killing this scientist has something to do with averting a second Holocaust. This is a deeply irrational and unfounded assumption, but it is one that informs everything else Tobin says. Israel has a nuclear deterrent of hundreds of warheads that would keep Iran from attacking it even if Iran had a nuclear weapon. There is still no evidence that the Iranian leadership has decided to develop a nuclear weapon. The Iranian leadership is intent on the self-preservation of their regime rather than mass suicide, and the official Iranian position is that the use of nuclear weapons is forbidden by Islamic law. On the basis of this total fantasy of an Iranian nuclear first-strike attack on Israel, Tobin sanctions the murder of people who may be involved in nothing more than legitimate scientific research. “They must be stopped before they kill,” he says, but there is no reason to think that “they” are going to do the killing he fears. It goes without saying that these acts have nothing to do with American or Israeli self-defense.