FOREIGN AFFAIRS: by John MillerNews Weekly
Iranian plot to kill Saudi man in Washington
, October 29, 2011
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force was thwarted in an apparent attempt to kill the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the US, Adel Al-Jubeir, by means of a suicide-bomb attack in a Washington restaurant. The plot came adrift when it was penetrated by US authorities, including the Drug Enforcement Agency.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton swiftly denounced this somewhat crude and brazen plot and those behind it. Attorney-General Eric Holder declared that, in addition to fully prosecuting two suspects, the US intended to “hold the Iranian government accountable for its actions”.
(The reaction of the US media has been interesting, some pundits reacting to the affair with indignation, quite possibly because they were informed only after the government had taken action.)
A top US national security advisor flew to Saudi Arabia and personally briefed King Abdullah. Washington Post correspondent David Ignatius, who usually has very good contacts, made the point that Iran’s Quds Force operatives had carried out attacks against the US embassy and a barracks in Lebanon in 1983, but until now had not been detected engaging in terrorist acts on US soil.
Needless to say, the Tehran Government and the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were swift to denounce talk of an Iranian plot as a US fabrication.
As usual, the Monday morning quarterbacks in the US press have stated that if the US authorities’ 21-page indictment is anything to go by, the intended attack was sloppy and displayed extremely poor tradecraft standards by the usually efficient Quds Force. Others have quibbled about the US using sting operations against would-be terrorists. I would have no hesitation in using such operations in this country.
One Iranian weakness not mentioned is that by being an extremely introspective regime, Iran has lacked familiarity with US procedures and counter-terrorist measures. In the coming days, we can expect Tehran to offer the usual confection of the alleged plot having been carried out by rogue elements or freelancers; but the fact remains, it should be taken seriously until the evidence is presented and assessed.
As Mr Ignatius has pointed out, details of the plot have come at a time when Iran is facing serious internal problems in the form of a power struggle between the spiritual leader Ayatollah Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the extent that parts of government have been paralysed. Moreover, Iran’s most important ally in the Arab world, Syria, is increasingly threatened by growing opposition.
Iran, an enormously important geo-strategic nation at the head of the Persian Gulf, has never been far from the news, especially after being labelled as part of the Axis of Evil by former US President George W. Bush after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on American a decade ago.
Iran’s unswerving support for the repressive Assad regime in Syria and for Palestinian organisations bent on the destruction of Israel is a matter of public record. With Iran rumoured to be on the verge of developing its own nuclear weaponry, and its president given to making incendiary speeches against Israel, Iran, despite its relatively small size, casts an ominous shadow across the Middle East.
Iran was an important ally of the West until 1979, when Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown by Islamic fundamentalists led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, after which the country becoming officially known as the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The ensuing “rule of the mullahs”, as it became known in the media and intelligence world, was characterised by an unrelenting hostility towards the West, and the US in particular. At home, repressive laws, reflecting the Shi’ite Muslim doctrines of its new rulers, sought to stamp out as un-Islamic many Western cultural influences. Women who had been in the forefront of Iranian scholarship found they had to submit to strict dress codes and educational restraints.
Only a few weeks ago, the UN General Assembly witnessed a walkout of major Western powers after Iranian President Ahmadinejad hysterically denounced the West and Israel in a speech. It is unwise to underestimate the power of Ahmadinejad, despite various accounts of a green revolution and the manoevering of so-called moderates.
The Iranian president believes he has been touched by Allah and will live to see Armageddon, the final battle to destroy Israel. Over the past century, Western democracies have paid a fearful price for failing to take totalitarian leaders at their word.
John Miller is a former senior intelligence officer.