LONDON 12 July (IPS) The "Godfather" of Iranian missile programs was found dead in mysterious circumstances at his office Sunday and buried hastily on Monday 9 July, without authorising his family to identify him, according to a well-informed Iranian investigative journalist. Air Force Colonel Hamid Mahmood Meyvandi, 46, had been arrested briefly by the Revolutionary Guard intelligence on his return from a short trip to the United States two months ago but freed after three days, without explanations.
But sources close to the family said he had been suspected of espionage for the Americans, Dr. Alireza Noorizadeh, a London-based independent journalist told Iran Press Service.
An account of the mysterious death of Colonel Meyvandi was published Tuesday in the pan Arab, Saudi-owned Arabic daily "Al Sharq al Awsat", headquartered in London and printed simultaneously in several Arab capitals, including Cairo, Beirut and Jeddah.
Educated and trained in the United States as pilot, Colonel Meyvandi had also acquired advanced experience in the fabrication of missiles in the former Soviet Union, China and Romania before coming back to Iran, helping in the country's nascent programs of developing missiles, according to Mr. Noorizadeh.
Beside developing several missiles, including the "Shahin" types, Mr. Meyvandi's latest performances were the construction of copies of the American-made missiles and rockets, including the "Sparrow", used with the ageing F-14 Phantoms bought by Iran before the Islamic revolution of 1979.
He also helped in the construction of missiles and rockets for American and Italian-made Cobra and Augusta-Bell helicopters.
"All together, he supervised the development and fabrication of nine different types of missiles and rockets", the journalist said.
Though the authorities have told his family that Colonel Meyvandi died as a result of a sudden heart attack, but rumours are ripe in Tehran that he might have been killed by either Israeli agents or the Iranian themselves, suspecting him of spying for the United States.
Iran started producing missiles immediately after the bloody war with neighbouring Iraq with the help of China, Russia and specially North Korea.
Both Israel and the United States accuse Moscow of providing Tehran with the modern missile and nuclear technology.
During his visit to Turkey, Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer on Monday urged countries in the region to join forces to counter perceived threats from Iran and discussed boosting military cooperation with Turkey.
The Israeli minister charged that arch-foe Iran was developing nuclear weapons as part of a project to be completed by 2005, which threatened not only Israel but also the whole region, news agencies reported.
"We are more than worried about the very rapid development in Iran of nuclear weapons or non-conventional weapons", he said, highlighting Iranian tests of the Shahab-3 missile capable of reaching Israel.
"Countries concerned should join our efforts as soon as possible in order to see what can be done, to avoid any possibility that Iran reaches a level where in 2005 it will produce non-conventional weaponry", he added.
But both Iran and Russia vehemently reject the accusations, insisting that Moscow's involvement in the construction of a 1000 Megawatt Atom fuelled electricity plant in Bushehr, on the Persian Gulf is of "pacific and civilian" purpose performed under the control of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency.
Iran recently test-fired the Shahin-3 type long-range missile that the American say it missed its target and was destroyed on the air.
Becoming almost self sufficient in the construction of short and medium-range missiles and guided rockets, Iran fired some 60 rockets in one go on the bases of the Iraqi financed, trained and equipped Mojahedeen Khalq Organisation inside the Iraqi territory, twice the number of all the missiles Iran fired during the whole eight years war.
"After he was freed, Colonel Meyvandi looked very tire, pale and extremely depressed", Mr. Noorizadeh told IPS, quoting his family.