By Press TV
By Yusuf Fernandez
On 11 October, US Attorney General Eric Holder spoke of an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US, which has prompted calls in the American media for retaliation against Iran.
Two men – Mansour Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri – were charged with multiple offences, including conspiracy to murder a foreign official, conspiracy to commit an act of international terrorism, and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, namely explosives.
Shakuri, who US officials claim is a member of the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, is still at large. Arbabsiar only spoke to him over the phone or met with him during visits to Iran.
Holder also declared that the United States was “committed to holding Iran accountable for its actions.” As a first step, the Obama administration announced financial sanctions against five Iranians, including the two suspects charged.
Iranian authorities dismissed Washington’s accusation as a smear campaign aimed at sparking Iranophobia in the world and distracting attention from the ongoing wave of the Islamic Awakening in the North Africa and Middle East as well as the popular anti-Wall Street protests underway across the US.
Iran’s Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani dubbed the US allegations that Iran was involved in a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington as a “ridiculous lie”. “The US has one by one lost its allies during the revolutions in the region (Middle East), and is resorting to such scenarios and seditious [strategies] to divert attention from its failures…,” Larijani said.
Iran’s envoy to the UN says US allegations about Tehran’s involvement in a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington are an “insult to the intelligence” of the people of the world. “We are used to the baseless allegations made by some US officials over the past three decades, but the big lie they have told today is so unfounded that it sounds like the work of Hollywood’s scenario writers,” Mohammad Khazaei said in an interview with CNN.
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast dismissed the US allegations as a “new propaganda campaign” involving a “prefabricated scenario.”
It is noteworthy to point out that the FBI case depends completely on Arbabsiar’s confession and his monitored calls to his alleged Iranian contact, Shakuri. According to the FBI complaint, Arbabsiar was recruited by his cousin, a general in the Quds Force, while visiting Iran, and subsequently met Shakuri and another man, who he believed to be a senior Quds Force officer.
Arbabsiar, an American citizen, was arrested on September 29 with the assistance of Mexican authorities, after months of surveillance. According to US version, he trusted an infiltrated Drug Enforcement Agency agent who posed as a member of the Zetas Mexican drug cartel, whom he would have tried to persuade to carry out the murder. Arbabsiar wired 100,000 dollars to a bank account he thought belonged to a member of the Zeta Mexican drug cartel, as a down payment on the 1.5 million dollars demanded by the cartel member for the assassination.
Here the first flaws in the story can be found. As US analyst Juan Cole says, “If Arbabsiar really had been an Iranian intelligence asset, he would have been informed that if there is one thing the US typically monitors, it is money transfers of more than 10,000 dollars (as a measure against drug money laundering). The only safe way to undertake this transaction would have been cash, and no one in the Quds Brigade is so stupid as not to know this simple reality.”
Arbabsiar came to the United States to attend what was then known as Texas A & I University in Kingsville. After college, Arbabsiar opened a used car lot in the area with a couple of friends.
He had been arrested a multiple of times in the state for offenses including theft and evading arrest. Arbabsiar was also detained for passing bad checks. It is difficult to believe that the Quds Brigade would accept to depend so heavily on someone with a fraud conviction, who was therefore known to US authorities. Intelligence agencies usually deploy “newskins”, that is, people who can fly under the radar of police and security forces.
The Associated Press spoke to Arbabsiar’s friend and former Texas business partner David Tomscha, who said he was “sort of a hustler.” The Iranian-American, the AP reported, “was likable, albeit a bit lazy. He is no mastermind,” Tomscha told the AP. “I cannot imagine him thinking up a plan like that. I mean, he didn’t seem all that political. He was more of a businessman.”
Ridiculous and amateurish
The US charges against Iran have been treated with extreme skepticism by experts on Iran all over the world. Robert Baer, a former CIA agent with a long experience of observing the Quds Force, said: “This stinks to holy hell. The Quds Force are very good. They do not sit down with people they do not know and make a plot. They use proxies and they are professional about it… This is totally uncharacteristic of them.” That is, that Iran’s Quds Force, considered by most analysts to be one of the world’s more professional covert agencies, would entrust what would have been the first act of Iranian terrorism on US soil to such an individual as Arbabsiar is ridiculous.
“It is a very strange case, it does not really fit Iran’s mode of operation,” says Alireza Nader, an Iran analyst at the Rand Corp and coauthor of studies about the Revolutionary Guard.
Relying on “at least one amateur and a Mexican criminal drug gang that is known to be riddled with both Mexican and US intelligence agents” appears to be sloppy, said Gary Sick, an Iran expert at Columbia University and principal White House aide during the 1979 Iranian revolution and hostage crisis. “Whatever else may be Iran’s failings, they are not noted for utter disregard of the most basic intelligence tradecraft.”
Mexico’s cartels unlikely to become involved
Other experts agree that the likelihood of such a plot going undetected in Mexico by US authorities is low and that Mexico’s drug cartels would be unlikely to become involved.
In this same sense, Adrian Hamilton wrote in the Independent that “hiring Mexican hitmen to carry out a diplomatic assassination in the US capital is so hare-brained and so ridiculously amateurish that it beggars belief that a people as sophisticated as the Iranians would try it.”
Strategic Forecasting Inc., an Austin, Texas, global intelligence firm commonly called Stratfor, described as unlikely any use of Mexico as a staging ground for a terrorist attack emanating from the Middle East. It noted that while the US-Mexico border is porous and prone to security breaches, the US government has “extremely active intelligence capabilities” embedded in Mexico. It added that Mexico is generally hostile to enemies of the United States, not wanting to risk possible intervention by US forces should its territory be used in any attack.
“Any plan to use Mexican drug cartels to carry out attacks against the United States would threaten the very existence of the cartel,” a Stratfor analysis said.
WikiLeaks also suggest that American diplomats maintain a steady focus on Iran’s activities in Latin America. In Mexico, that meant keeping an eye on a mosque in Torreon, watching the activities of the Iranian embassy and checking public attitudes toward Iran.
Another cable said US and Israeli experts seemed pleased with the Mexican intelligence agency’s abilities to monitor Iranians or their activities. “Mexican authorities, especially CISEN, track potential Iranian related security concerns closely, keeping an eye out for any undesirable Iranian activities or persons,” said the secret cable, dated March 6, 2009.
No benefit for Iran
An assassination plot on US soil would be costly for Iran, analysts say, inviting further sanctions and isolation by the international community, and perhaps military action as well. “This (plot) does not seem to serve Iran’s interests in any conceivable way,” says Nader. “Assassinating the Saudi ambassador would increase international pressure against Iran, could be considered an act of war … by Saudi Arabia, it could really destabilize the government in Iran.”
“What we have seen unfold makes no sense in terms of Iran’s national security strategy,” says Hillary Mann Leverett, who was an adviser on Iran in former President George W. Bush’s administration, to the CNN. There is no benefit; there is no payoff in them pursuing this kind of hit against Adel Jubeir. And it runs contrary to their entire national security strategy.”
“Tehran has little time for Saudi Arabia, and vice versa, but the oil kingdom is far too rich and far too well-connected internationally to risk outright conflict with.” Hamilton said.
Arab analysts share this opinion. “I am not convinced that Iran would attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in the US. There is no political use to it,” Mohammed Qadri Saeed, a strategic expert at Cairo’s Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Reuters.
Iran has emerged as an undeniable power broker in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf and Central Asia. Tehran’s political and economic influence in these regions is greater than ever and it has solidified its role as a critical actor involving nearly all the major issues there, including the futures of Iraq and Afghanistan and the price of oil and energy. A drastic measure like an assassination plot on US soil might perhaps make sense for a country desperate for attention, but not for Iran.
A US plot against Iran?
There is another possibility. This complot could be a US-created one to fabricate a pretext for more sanctions or even a military attack on Iran.
The indictment comes as anti-Iran hawks, who have felt frustrated that the so-called Arab Spring has pushed Tehran out of the media spotlight, are both pressing the US Congress to impose a new round of economic sanctions against Iran – including banning all transactions with Iran’s Central Bank – and persuading Republican presidential hopefuls to attack Obama for not pursuing a more confrontational policy.
While the immediate response of the Obama administration has been limited to financial sanctions, the anti-Iranian claims could provide the pretext for a dangerous escalation of punitive US measures against Tehran over a range of issues – from its nuclear program to its alleged support for anti-occupation forces inside Iraq and Afghanistan.
At a White House press conference, Obama said his administration would make Iran “pay a price” for an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador. He described it as “part of a pattern of dangerous and reckless behavior by the Iranian government.” In the same remarks, Obama claimed that his government would not “take any options off the table in terms of how we operate with Iran”, a phrase that can only be understood as a threat of American military aggression.
British expert on Middle East affairs, Christopher Walker, said, “This just happens to have been announced as [US] President [Barack] Obama’s personal ratings drop to their lowest point ever. And it is been shown that any Republican – it does not matter who … they have not chosen the leader of the Republican party yet – could and would be likely to beat him,” he added. “So what better way to clear the headlines and get rid of the bad news of all these demonstrators taking to the streets all over America [protesting] about the corporate government.”
However, the Obama Administration’s calls for more concerted action against Iran will ultimately backfire because they will be seen in most of the world (apart from Saudi Arabia and Gulf Arab monarchies closely linked to it), and especially by Muslim masses, as yet again leveling false charges as a pretext to contain or even attack another Muslim country.