News / Middle East

Alleged Iranian Plot Prompts Skepticism

An anti-U.S. mural is seen on a wall of a government building in central Tehran, Iran, October 12, 2011.
An anti-U.S. mural is seen on a wall of a government building in central Tehran, Iran, October 12, 2011.
Gary Thomas

The alleged Iranian-backed plot to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S. has sparked skepticism among some veteran Iran watchers.  

Many longtime Iran watchers are puzzled over the alleged Iranian plot to kill Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir.  

According to the criminal complaint, Mansour Arbabsiar, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Texas, conspired with an Iran-based member of the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Republican Guard Corps to murder the ambassador in Washington. The U.S. says they sought to contract the services of a Mexican drug cartel to carry out the hit.

U.S. officials have strongly defended the strength of their case. Iran has stoutly denied it.

Ken Katzman, a veteran Iran analyst for the Congressional Research Service, said the execution of the plot is totally out of character for Iran.

“If the Iranians weren’t totally sure about the ability of their own people to do such a plot in the United States, then they just wouldn’t do it.  They would try to attack the Saudis somewhere else, or they would go elsewhere where they could use their own very trusted people," said Katzman. "They wouldn’t just simply say, we have to carry out this attack in the United States, and we don’t have our own people there so we are going to subcontract to people we are unfamiliar with. That totally just doesn’t add up for those of us who have followed Iranian terrorism for many years.”

Quds Force operatives are known to have killed people outside Iran before, but they usually have been murders of dissidents in Europe and the Middle East. Katzman said, though, the Iranians would not contract out such a sensitive job as murdering an ambassador to an outside group, especially one that is non-Muslim and therefore suspect in Iranian eyes.

But why would the Iranians target the Saudi ambassador, and especially on U.S. soil?

It is true that Iran, a Shi’ite Muslim theocracy, and Saudi Arabia, run by a Saudi hereditary monarchy, have long been at odds. And a 2008 U.S. diplomatic cable released by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks quotes the Saudi ambassador to Washington Adel al-Jubeir as urging the U.S. to attack Iran’s nuclear program.

But, as Charles Faddis, a retired veteran of CIA Middle East operations, said, killing the ambassador in Washington is extraordinarily risky, even foolhardy.

“You know, a target of that profile on U.S. soil - I mean, that’s an act of war and is obviously going to provoke a response. And you have to wonder why they would think that’s in their interest as we’re leaving Iraq and clearly winding down in Afghanistan, and virtually bankrupt," said Faddis. "Everything would tell them that time is on their side. So why come stick their finger in our eye right now? That doesn’t make sense.”

Kamran Bokhari, chief Middle East analyst at the private intelligence firm Stratfor, points out that such a murder in the U.S. capital would drive Washington and Riyadh closer together.

“From the Iranian point of view, the United States and Saudi Arabia are already very tightly aligned. The Iranians are having a hard time dealing with the status quo as is," said Bokhari. "Why would they want to do something that would even pull those two forces together even more tightly? And so it just doesn’t make sense."

From what little that is known, it appears the plan did not get very far. Katzman said the key defendant, Arbabsiar, may have approached Iranian intelligence with a plan that they really had no intention of carrying out.

“He appears to have some relations in the Quds forces, and it’s certainly possible he contacted them and maybe they indulged him and didn’t want to say no, or due to familial relationships or whatever, they perhaps didn’t stop him as vigorously as they should have because of the relationship. But the idea that this was a fully vetted and thought-through plan seems to fall apart to me, to my mind,” he said.

Former CIA operations officer Charles Faddis said the Iranians may have been trying to test a potential intelligence asset and got caught doing so.

“Another thing that strikes me as possible is that this individual was trying basically to con the Iranians - in other words, that he approached them with the idea that he’s going to try to build himself up because he’s frankly desperate for money. And so he’s going to represent that he is capable of things he’s really not capable of," said Faddis. "And then the Iranians take some actions to attempt to flush that out and determine what he is, and is not, capable of, and in the midst of that effort they discover that this whole thing has been under the control of American intelligence and law enforcement from the outset.”

Reports say U.S. officials have traced transfers of nearly $100,000 from Iran to Arbabsiar, which the officials describe as a down payment for the job.

Faddis emphasizes, however, that there are many competing centers of power in Iran, so it also might have been a rogue operation without official sanction.

“You have multiple power centers. So you can clearly have individuals inside whatever we want to call the power structure in Iran who have decided that they want to pursue a much more provocative course of action which the majority would not support. So I think that’s what people are getting at when they talk about rogue elements. So that’s definitely possible,” he said.

But rogue element or not, President Barack Obama said that Iran as a government will be held responsible.

“We believe that even if at the highest levels there was not detailed operational knowledge, there has to be accountability with respect to anybody in the Iranian government engaging in this kind of activity,” the president said.

The State Department said the U.S. and Iran have been in “direct contact” over the plot but offered no further details. Washington and Tehran do not have diplomatic relations.

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs