Many readers have written to dispute the notion that a targeted car bomb assassination amounts to "terrorism." I take one point: this was not an indiscriminate killing, although it does seem designed to sow fear among any scientists working on Iran's nuclear program, if not the general public. An assassination seems more appropriate. But my response was to the optics as well: the shattered car on the street, the dead victim inside covered in blood, etc. This wasn't a sleek hotel room silencer murder. It was a very public death. But here is the US legal definition of "terrorism" (18 U.S.C. s. 2331 ) [PDF]:
(1) the term “international terrorism” means activities that—(A) involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State;(B) appear to be intended—(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and(C) occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which their perpetrators operate or seek asylum.
My italics. An assassination to affect the conduct or influence the policy of Iran would therefore legally be terrorism. Right? But if it isn't designed to affect Iran's policy, but merely to kill its scientists, merely to slow down nuclear research, then this may be a better definition:
the term “act of war” means any act occurring in the course of—(A) declared war;(B) armed conflict, whether or not war has been declared, between two or more nations; or(C) armed conflict between military forces of any origin.
A third alternative is that this is an attempt to bait Iran, at a moment of high tension, into retaliation, in order to launch an overt war. I don't know. I don't even know who authorized this. But whoever is throwing matches into this dry brushwood is playing with fire. And the fire would consume the US and Europe as well as the Middle East.