The mystery behind the alleged Iran assassination plot
From blaming the Mossad, to suggesting U.S. is gathering public support for an imminent military operation in Iran, conspiracy theories are spreading, but they are baseless and mistaken.
While everyone in Israel has been preoccupied since Tuesday with the upcoming release of captive Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, they have hardly noticed recent events in the U.S. and the implications they have on the world, the Middle East and even on Israel: the U.S. government's claim that Iran was involved in a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, the Israeli ambassador to Washington and to again attack the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in Argentina.
Very few details were published about the military plan, but those that were published showed the plan was inadequate and amateurish. This created a lack of trust in the American announcement. Specialists on Iran – most of whom frequent Gary Sick's Internet forum, the Gulf/2000 Project – hastened to support Iran and raise doubts as to whether it was really behind the plot. Others went so far as to weave conspiracy theories that the American government, with the support of its intelligence, fabricated the operation to incriminate Iran, so as to create a casus belli and prepare public opinion for a military blow on Tehran.
At the same time, the U.S. is putting pressure on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to publish evidence it received over the last few months about the Iranian nuclear program. According to the New York Times, this classified intelligence information says Iran is conducting technological experiments for building nuclear weapons.
There were even those who conjured conspiracy theories in their sick minds that blame the Mossad for being behind the act in order to provoke a war between Washington and Tehran. In this context, they reminded that Israel played an important role in gathering "evidence" against Sudam Hussein's regime in Iraq in order to push the U.S. to invade Iraq. But even without these conspiracy theories, the Americans and the world remember that George W. Bush used faulty intelligence information to show Sudam Hussein was developing nuclear weapons – or at least chemical and biological weapons – as a justification for invading Iraq in 2003. If the U.S. intelligence, many in the U.S. claim, was capable of using the information and intelligence assessments for political echelon, who could guarantee they wouldn't do it again?
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday scornfully rejected the Americans' claims, saying they were meaningless. "A meaningless and nonsensical accusation has been raised against a few Iranians in America, which was made into an excuse to present the Islamic Republic as a supporter of terrorism," Khamenei said on a state television station in Iran.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller were the ones to unveil the plot last week. They spoke of an Iranian-American named Mansour Arbabsiar, from Corpus Christi, Texas, and who has a relative serving in the Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force in Iran. Last June, Arbabsiar turned to a man and asked him to obtain weapons from a Mexican drug cartel. That man, it turns out, was a DEA agent. From that moment on, Arbabsiar was put under surveillance until he was recently arrested and charged.
Another suspect, Ali Gholam Shakuri – who is allegedly a member of the Quds Force, got away.
The charges do not mention the plot to attack the Israeli embassies, but it was reported in the American and Argentinean media and was based on conversations with government officials.
The Quds Force, headed by Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, consists of about 15,000 conscripts and is considered the elite force of the Revolutionary Guard. The force is responsible for maintaining contact with different organizations around the world, mainly Shiite groups – and provides arms and funding to Hezbollah, Hamas, Shiite militias in Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen and al-Qaida. It is known that Suleimani was in close contact with Hezbolla's "Defense Minister" Imad Mughniyah, who was killed in February 2008 in an operation attributed to the Mossad. Suleimani also secretly visited Iraq to help organize resistance to the U.S. military.
It's hard to believe that Iran, who has significant intelligence capabilities and has carried out sophisticated terror attacks in the past – would assign such an important task to an Iranian-American whose favorite drink is whiskey.
Furthermore, the last time Iran was involved in a terror plot on U.S. soil was in 1980, shortly after the Islamic Revolution which saw Ruhollah Khomeini rise to power. Dawud Salahuddin, an American who converted to Islam, tried to assassinate Ali Akbar Tabatabai, the former press attaché at the Iranian embassy in Washington. Salahuddin fled to Tehran, where he resides to this day. Last week Salahuddin gave an interview to the Christian Science Monitor, in which he said that based on his experience, the Iranian intelligence agencies would not have operated this way.
Yet one must not forget that Iran's Quds Force and intelligence agency are responsible for various terrorist operations in recent decades, which were carried out by Iranian, Lebanese, or other dissidents. These included attacks in Berlin, Vienna, Rome, Paris, and Israeli and Jewish targets in Argentina.
Despite Israel's official silence on the recent events, security officials know that not only is Iran capable of carrying out such attacks – it is actively initiating them. As evidence, officials point to the botched attacks in Azerbaijan, Cairo, and a West African state. These attempts were carried out in cooperation with Hezbollah, which sought to avenge Mughniyah's death.
The Saudis also believe the Iranian plot is real. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said last week in a visit to Austria that "we hold (the Iranians) responsible for any action they take against us." He indicated that this is not the first time Iran is suspected of such operations.
There is no doubt that a terrorist attack on U.S. soil against a Saudi or an Israeli target would be considered a tremendous Iranian success – a "quality" operation. It conforms to the Iranian strategy of proving to its bitter enemies that there no place where they are safe, not even in the capital of Israel's and Saudi Arabia's strategic partner.
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia's ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir is considered a bitter rival of Iran and his actions have been loathed by the Ayatollah regime for years. He is a seasoned diplomat that works tirelessly to progress Saudi-American relationships, and succeeded in no small measure to correct the bad impression left by Saudi Arabia with its involvement, and the funding it provided to the Saudi citizens among the September 11 attackers. Al-Jubeir maintains close ties with the Saudi king, and according to WikiLeaks documents he was one of the people who succeeded in toughening the king's stance toward Iran. Moreover, before being appointed ambassador he was considered an "envoy" to the Jewish community in the U.S. – meeting Jewish leaders and bringing about a certain change in the embassy's traditionally hostile stance towards the Jewish community. There is no chance that the last weapons deal between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. went through almost without opposition in Congress. One of the reasons for this was that the pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC didn't oppose it.
With such a record, the Saudi ambassador could definitely constitute a fitting target for an Iranian plot. It is also possible the inadequate and amateurish plan proves Iran does not have proper terror foundations in the U.S., and therefore found it difficult to carry out the operation by the standards it would hope for. Otherwise, it's hard to imagine that the U.S. Attorney General, the head of the CIA and most of all U.S. President Barack Obama, would risk their reputation by publishing such unequivocal dramatic announcements that Iran is behind the plot. The U.S. administration undoubtedly has additional intelligence evidence – probably from its SIGINT capabilities, like telephone conversations or internet communications – that at this stage they do not want to reveal.