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Iranian Assassination – Narco-Cartel Plot Charged

The US Attorney General Eric Holder, supported diplomatically by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, charged the Iranian government earlier today with a plot to enlist a Mexican narco-cartel to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States. SECSTATE Hillary Clinton, the FBI Director and President Barack Obama have all weighed in on this issue with strong public statements:

U.S. authorities said they had broken up a plot by two men linked to Iran’s security agencies to assassinate Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir. One was arrested last month while the other was believed to be in Iran.

Iran denied the charges. But President Barack Obama called the plot a “flagrant violation of U.S. and international law” and Saudi Arabia said it was “despicable.” Revelation of the alleged plot, and the apparent direct ties to the Tehran government, had the potential to further inflame tensions in the Middle East, and the United States said Tehran must be held top account.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a Reuters interview, expressed hope that countries that have hesitated to enforce existing sanctions on Iran would now “go the extra mile.” At a news conference, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the convoluted plot, involving monitored international calls, Mexican drug money and an attempt to blow up the ambassador in a Washington restaurant, could have been straight from a Hollywood movie.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder alleged that the plot was the work of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is the guardian of Iran’s 32-year-old revolution, and the Quds force, its covert, operational arm. “High-up officials in those (Iranian) agencies, which is an integral part of the Iranian government, were responsible for this plot,” Holder told the news conference.

“I think one has to be concerned about the chilling nature of what the Iranian government attempted to do here,” he said….

I confess that I am not quite sure what to make of this story. 

If accurate – the case originated with a DEA confidential informant in Mexico – it would amount to a new stage of reckless boldness by Iran’s hardline Pasdaran clique of security and intelligence agencies run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and their retired leadership that have a semi-hegemony over the Iranian regime. It also points to the danger to American national security of a long, basically open, border with a failing state Mexico that is deeply embattled in a polycentric counterinsurgency war with the rapidly morphing narco-cartels (that said, I do not expect the administration to move a policy inch to repair the latter). Why would Iran do this – and in such a harebrained manner?

Some possible motives:

* Internal factionalism – Iran recently released imprisoned American hikers, albeit after a substantial ransom payment. Potentially, this could be viewed in the topsy-turvy world of Iranian Islamist politics as a “goodwill gesture” toward the United States. Historically, such gestures provoke rival factions in Iran to initiate anti-American actions, including acts of terrorism, usually via proxies. If an intel operation was “factional” rather than blessed by a wide elite consensus, it might very well be a marginal idea carried out on a shoe-string.

* Counterpressue – Indirect Iranian skirmishing against the US which is drawing down in Iraq and is pressuring Iran’s ally Syria. Also against the Saudis who brutally suppressed a predominantly Shia “Arab Spring” rising in Bahrain which, if it had succeeded in toppling the regime, would have added Bahrain to the regional “Shia Revival”.

* Opportunism – The Pasdaran leadership may have  believed the stories of American decline, assessed our extensive military commitments and budgetary problems and taken the Obama administration’s temperature and concluded that the benefits of carrying out the assassination outweighed the remote risk direct  of US military retaliation.

Some points to consider:

* Proximity – Iran could more easily, with less risk and with far greater likelihood of success, carry out acts of anti-American terrorism closer to home in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan the Gulf States, even in Saudi Arabia or Egypt.  Acts of terrorism in the American homeland risk a massive overreaction by Washington ( the US only needs the Navy to deal out severe consequences to Iran) which might welcome a legitimate pretext to bomb all of Iran’s suspected nuclear facilities and national security sites.

* Self-Preservation by the Mexican narco-cartels make such cooperation with Iran less likely, having the example of their Colombian predecessors in the 1980’s before them when they raised the ire of the USG sufficiently. The narcos have their hands full fighting the Mexican Army and one another without adding the CIA, Global Predator drones or the SEALs to their plate.

* Friends of MeK – By some miraculous deus ex machina, the cultish, 1970’s era Iranian Marxoid terrorist group, the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MeK) have spent a wealth of funds to buy the lobbying services of a glittering array of former top US national security officials and general officers – despite being on the State Department’s official terrorist list.

….Among the new faces: former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton (D), who once chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and who served as vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission; Ambassador Dell Dailey, who was the State Department’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism from July 2007 to April 2009; General Michael Hayden, director of the CIA from 2006 to 2009; and not one, but two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Walter Slocombe and ex-Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-NJ) also spoke.

In what should be a national scandal, those names are not even a comprehensive list of the very influential former politicians, K Street lobbyists and Beltway law firms accepting payments to whisper in the ears of current officials in the national security community, regarding Iran, on behalf of the MeK. Not sure how it is legal to do so either, since aiding a group on the State Department’s list by providing services normally can get you hauled into Federal  court pronto, if you are an ordinary American citizen. A most curious situation….

I have no brief for Iran, the regime is a dedicated enemy of the United States, but a group of exiled Iranian Marxist-terrorists who used to work for Saddam Hussein hardly have our best interests at heart.

It will be interesting to watch this case unfold, but in the meantime, opinions are welcome in the comments, particularly on the Mexican narco-cartel angle.

Hat tip to James Bennett.

4 Responses to “Iranian Assassination – Narco-Cartel Plot Charged”

  1. chris Says:

    Someone made a comment about lack of credibility, since this sounded like a movie plot and I remembered there was an analogous event in Scarface.

  2. Cheryl Rofer Says:

    Juan Cole has what I think is the most plausible theory so far: it was a renegade Iranian drug-lord operation.
    I’ll also note that it seems to be a response to recent Iranian offers to negotiate. Every time a negotiation is in view, something like this comes up. I’m reminded of the FBI’s arrest of Gennadi Zakharov just before the Reykjavik summit in 1986. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this sort of thing is an attempt by a government bureau to undermine foreign relations, just that maybe the people in those bureaus think that it’s good to look strong going into a negotiation.
    That doesn’t eliminate the possibility that people further up the chain of command share this belief, too, or that it is accurate in some cases. Just that it’s hard to know which cases until it’s too late.

  3. Dave Schuler Says:

    One quibble:  this was not a terrorist plot.  The complaint makes it clear that the objective was to murder Adel al-Jubeir and that other casualties were irrelevant.  That’s no terrorist plot.

  4. zen Says:

    Hi Cheryl & Dave – "Terrorism" may not have been the primary intent here, as the main suspect appears to be a wealthy nebbish/ass-clown with a possible drug connection in the IRGC, but if a KSA or Israeli diplomat had been killed or kidnapped, I think that would have been the political impression most ppl would have taken from it.

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