Punching Holes in the Iran Plot
Image Credit: Kyle Rush

Punching Holes in the Iran Plot


There’s plenty of reason to be sceptical, until more evidence is revealed, about the true nature of the terrorism scheme allegedly cooked up by Iran to assassinate Adel al-Jubeir, the ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United States. But one thing is certain: Had a bomb exploded in a downtown Washington DC restaurant killing the ambassador and a hundred or more other people including members of Congress, and that event were traced back to Iran, the United States would already be launching a massive aerial attack against Iran’s top military installations and its nuclear research programme.

And that’s just one more reason why analysts are reluctant to accept the idea that Tehran would take such a gigantic gamble for little or no conceivable gain. Killing Jubeir – a non-royal Saudi who’s little more than a go-between for King Abdullah – at the risk of provoking war between Iran and the United States ranges from highly unlikely to out of the question for either Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And, according to Washington analysts, it’s wildly out of character for Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the coolly calculating leader of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Spy-watchers and intelligence analysts have almost universally pointed out that the ‘tradecraft,’ or spy know-how involved in the US account of the affair is laughably incompetent. Speaking in almost unguarded language over open phone lines between the United States and Iran, wiring very large, easily traced sums of cash into an unvetted (FBI-controlled) bank account, and hiring a notoriously volatile Mexican drug-trafficking mafia to do the deed are like loud sirens calling attention to the plot.

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And the conspiracy’s alleged mastermind turns out to be a bungling, inept failed Iranian-American businessman in a Texas backwater. Twice married, and under a protection order against him filed by his first wife, Manssor Arbabsiar is a pot smoking, heavy drinker with a criminal record, a used car dealer who flunked out of college in Texas and who’s been described by acquaintances as ‘hopelessly unreliable.’ A former business partner calls him ‘goofy,’ adding: ‘Let me put it this way: He’s no mastermind.’

Yet US officials, outlining a plot in which Arbabsiar claimed to have been working with a cousin who held a senior post in the Quds Force and another official, who wired nearly $100,000 to Arbabsiar’s phony drug gangster, asserted point blank, in background briefings with reporters: ‘It would be our assessment that this kind of operation would have been discussed at the highest levels of the regime,’ meaning Khamenei and Ahmadinejad.

You can draw your own conclusions by reading the full text of the complaint, in which the clumsy ineptitude of the plot is revealed in all its glory. Or, most of its glory, since there’s much that isn’t specified: How did the United States assure itself that Arbabsiar’s contact, Gholam Shakuri, was, in fact, an officer in the highly secretive Quds Force? Why were they convinced that Arbabsiar’s cousin was, in fact, a ‘top general’ in that force? Who initiated contact between Arbabsiar and the supposed Mexican Mafioso who turned out to be an informant for the US Drug Enforcement Administration? Was it Arbabsiar or the DEA informant who initially proposed details of the alleged plot, which US officials say involved not only the Saudi ambassador, but the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington and Buenos Aires?

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