Was Khamenei Reckless - Or Set Up?
Image Credit: Wikicommons / Sarbaze Jebhe

Was Khamenei Reckless - Or Set Up?

 
 

On Tuesday, the US Justice Department accused ‘agents of the Iranian government of being involved in a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States, with help from a purported member of a Mexican drug cartel.’

This warning came as ABC News, citing an unnamed official, reported that the plot also included ‘plans to bomb the Israeli Embassy in Washington, as well as those belonging to Saudi Arabia and Israel in Buenos Aires, Argentina.’
 
The success of the US case against Iran will clearly depend on the quality of the evidence that the US government has at its disposal. Certainly, if this evidence is found wonting, and the case against the two suspects being held — an Iranian American and an Iranian Quds Force officer —  is thrown out, it would be a major blow to the credibility of US law enforcement agencies as well as the US government.
 
Looking ahead, what if the US government should be able to prove its case, including allegations of a plan to hit the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires? This would undoubtedly show the Iranian leadership's continued commitment to a tried and tested strategy. After all, Iran has been accused of being behind the 1992 suicide attack against Israel's embassy in Buenos Aires, which killed 29 people and injured 242. Meanwhile, Interpol has issued arrest warrants against Iranian officials over their alleged involvement in the AMIA bombing, which took place in Buenos Aires in 1994.
 
But concrete evidence that Iran was planning to strike in Washington as claimed would mark the opening of a whole new chapter in Iran’s dealings with the United States and Saudi Arabia. 
 
For a start, it could mean that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the ultimate authority for permitting attacks of this nature, is willing to go further than simply hurting US and Saudi interests through proxies in Iraq and Lebanon. This would set a new precedent, as Iran previously shied from launching operations against US and Saudi interests on their own soil. 
 
Yet there’s another, somewhat intriguing possibility. Could elements within the Iranian government or security establishment have planned this attack, without Khamenei's knowledge in order to hurt him and his regime? On the surface, at least, this seems unlikely. However, details of the US claims certainly suggest that the idea isn’t completely without merit. Why? Because according to the Justice Department, Arabisar, who the US government has accused of being connected to the Iranian government, is supposed to have wired $100,000 to the US undercover agent whom he thought would carry out the hit against the Saudi Ambassador. 
 
But this would be extremely sloppy and unprofessional work by a government that has, over the years, become adept at hiding its tracks. Why would Khamenei make himself and his regime so vulnerable by wiring money directly? Why wouldn't Iranian security officials use third parties operating through third countries? 
 

Newsletter
Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief