The Obama Administration is accusing the Iranian regime of being behind a foiled plot to kill the Saudi ambassador on U.S. soil and to bomb the Saudi and Israeli embassies. The Iranians sought to use the Mexican drug cartels as cover, allowing them to wage war while hidden in the shadows. If this is what Iran is willing to do without nuclear weapons, what will the regime do when it gets the bomb?
Manssoor Arbabsiar, a naturalized citizen, was arrested on September 29 at JFK International Airport, which was ironically the target of another terrorist plot in 2007 with strong connections to Iran. A member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ elite Al-Quds Force, the regime’s primary arm for covert operations, was also charged. This second individual, Gholan Shakuri, is in Iran.
Attorney General Eric Holder left no room to doubt the Iranian regime’s role in the terrorist plot. He said the terrorist operation was “conceived, sponsored and was directed from Iran” by top officials. He pointed out the “chilling nature of what the Iranian government attempted to do here.”
In the early part of spring, Manssor Arbabsiar was asked by his cousin, a senior Revolutionary Guards official, to recruit a Mexican drug trafficker to kidnap the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. In May, Arbabsiar made contact with someone who he thought was a member of the Zetas drug cartel in Mexico. Thankfully, that person was an informant for the Drug Enforcement Agency. The plot changed from a kidnapping to an assassination. Gholan Shakuri and another Revolutionary Guards official met with Arbabsiar in Iran and approved the bombing of a restaurant where the Saudi ambassador often ate. Had this plot gone through, Americans at the restaurant would have been killed and wounded.
The Iranians agreed to pay the informant $1.5 million, beginning with payments of $100,000 in July and August. Presumably, this would be shared amongst the other Zetas members that would take part in the operation. The Iranians also offered to provide tons of opium for the drug cartel that could be resold on the black market. As the plot progressed, there was discussion about bombing the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington D.C., as well as in Argentina. On October 5, Shakuri became impatient and told Arbabsiar, “just do it quickly, it’s late.”
It is unclear why the Iranians hatched the plot at this time. It is possible that the timing had something to do with a looming confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. In the spring, a proxy war seemed ready to erupt in Bahrain, where the pro-American, Sunni Royal Family was fighting off an uprising by its majority-Shiite population. The Iranians explicitly threatened Saudi Arabia for supporting the Bahraini Royal Family, and even began recruiting “martyrs” to go fight in the Gulf country. The crisis came to a head in May when Iran dispatched a flotilla to Bahrain and the Gulf Cooperation Council said it would not allow it to enter the waters. Ultimately, Iran backed down.
The assassination plot also may have been a reaction to a revelation from documents released by Wikileaks. In November 2010, Wikileaks revealed that the Saudi ambassador urged the U.S. to attack Iran and “cut off the head of the snake.”
The plot makes the words of Robert Noriega, a former U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States, seem prescient. In testifying to the House Homeland Security Committee in July, he predicted that Hezbollah would carry out an attack in the Western Hemisphere if it was confident that Iran’s fingerprints could be hidden.
“If our government and responsible partners in Latin America fail to act, I believe there will be an attack on U.S. personnel, installations or interests in the Americas as soon as Hezbollah operatives believe they are capable of such an operation without implicating their Iranian sponsors in the crime,” Noriega said.
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