Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why Iran assassination plot doesn't add up for Iran experts

    Wednesday, October 12, 2011   No comments

By Scott Peterson

How careful is Iran's Qods Force when it comes to covert operations abroad?

This wing of the Revolutionary Guard was accused by US military commanders in Iraq in 2007 and 2008 of jeopardizing the efforts of more than 150,000 American troops on the ground, of backing militias of all stripes, and of exercising strong influence on Baghdad's rulers.

Yet how many Iranian Qods Force operatives did that take? One US diplomat posted to Baghdad at the time had what he thought to be the consensus answer: There were just eight Qods Force men in all of Iraq.

Indeed, the Qods Force has a reputation for careful, methodical work – as well as effective use of local proxies, and ultimately their pragmatic deployment by Tehran as covert tools to expand Iran's influence across a region in flux. That explains why Iran experts are raising questions about fresh US charges of an Iran-backed bomb plot, this time to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington and blow up the Saudi and Israeli embassies.

A criminal complaint filed by US prosecutors on Tuesday charge Mansour Arbabsiar – a naturalized US citizen with an Iranian passport from Corpus Christi, Texas – and Gholam Shakuri, "an Iran-based member of Iran's Qods Force," with plotting to kill the Saudi diplomat on US soil in an operation "directed by factions of the Iranian government."

Details of alleged plot

Those who know Iran well are skeptical, but do not rule out any possibility. Mr. Arbabsiar may have arranged for $100,000 to be transferred from Iran as a down payment of $1.5 million for the hit, as US charges indicate.

Arbabsiar may also have boasted to one alleged accomplice in the plot – an associate of Mexico's Zeta drug cartel, who also happened to be an informant of the US Drug Enforcement Administration – that his cousin was a "big general" in the Iranian military.

While also describing a series of potential attacks to the associate, he may even have stated – apparently in secretly taped conversations – that mass American casualties as a result were not a problem: "They want that guy [the ambassador] done [killed], if the hundred go with him f**k 'em," reads the legal complaint.

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