Iran’s alleged plot to kill Saudi envoy to US, blow to Arab-Iranian ties

Yasser Seddiq, Friday 28 Oct 2011

The alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington has caused waves in diplomatic relations, but who is the real target?

This courtroom drawing shows Manssor Arbabsiar (2R), who holds both a US and Iranian passport, charged over an alleged Iranian government-directed plot to murder the Saudi Ambassador to the United States. (Photo: AFP)

Iran's foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, has confirmed an Interpol request concerning a suspect wanted over US allegations of an assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador to the US, but suggested the name was too common to pinpoint the individual, Iranian reports said Thursday.

The Obama administration should punish Iran, which allegedly plotted to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington, by waging a covert war that includes lethal strikes against Iranian intelligence operatives, a group of conservatives told a joint House subcommittee hearing last Wednesday, The Los-Angeles Times reported

Iran’s alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States has produced a range of global reactions. Some US experts on Iran went against the grain alleging that it is a real conspiracy, but against the Islamic Republic not against the Saudi envoy to Washington. They say Obama administration’s failure in dealing with internal economic woes prompted US officials to look for a diversion. 

It is ridiculous, they allege, for Tehran to use such insubstantial measures to deploy and use a Mexican drug cartel that is widely known to execute international transactions of billions of dollars. The US Attorney General Eric Holder said that the main suspect, Manssor Arbabsiar, a naturalised US citizen holding both Iranian and US passports, had agreed with a covert source for a $1.5 million deal.

Iranian-US relations have been marred by a long history of antagonism; the 1979 Iran hostage crisis was the straw that broke the camel’s back when 52 American diplomats were held hostage for 444 days in Tehran. Since then ties been sour. The hostage crisis led to sanctions being placed on Iran that have survived until now. Iranian ambitions to acquire the means of peaceful nuclear power also incurred a global bakclash against the Islamic Republic. Not to mention the role of Israel, the US-pampered ally, in seeking to contain any Islamic country with a nuclear possibilities, like Iran.    

The alleged assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador in Washington by Iranian government-backed men appears real, but the US has lost great credibility in dealing with the Middle East. This view is echoed by columnist Jijad El-Khazen in an op-ed published in the London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat newspaper. 

Iran hastened to deny any connection with the alleged plot. The denial went through Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and then onto the lips of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad said the US is accusing Iran of involvement in a "terror plot" to strengthen international sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Khamenei lashed out at the US, saying the Americans have created a story with absurd accusations against a number of Iranians and accused Iran of supporting terrorism, but that this type of conspiracy fails to isolate the Islamic Republic. Iran's intelligence chief also dismissed the American claims as a "foolish plot" nobody would believe.

In contrast to this high-profile denial, and in the first threat of its kind, fundamentalist member of Iran's parliamentary Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy Mohammad Karim Abedi, said Iran could easily occupy Saudi Arabia, if the Islamic Republic wished to.

For Mohamed Saleh Sedqeian, director of the Arab Center for Iranian Studies, the implausible US accusation against Iran is simply "a new attempt to impose more sanctions on Tehran: it is a villainous conspiracy hatched up by US officials to create further chaos in the volatile Middle East region." The aim is to trigger a split in Iranian-Arab relations in general, and Iranian-Gulf Arab relations, in particular, Sedqeian said.

"We in Iran pursue the long-term strategy. The days will prove that the American story is a fake one, like many others. The most significant turning point was the story of weapons of mass destruction that was trumped up by the former US President George W Bush, merely to weaken the Middle East region, and to make the region swarm with conflicts that would lead to a stringent hegemony by the US and West over the resources of the region, expressly oil," Sedqeian added.  

When by Ahram Online about the statement issued recently by Iran's foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, concerning cooperation with US authorities, and that some labelled it as a kind of retreat, Sedqeian said Iranians naturally tend to prudence. "Despite of our vehement denial of these accusations, we pursue another path; the path of law. We did so to refute these accusations. Yes, we have asked to meet the defendant, who holds both Iranian and US passports, but this is not a retreat or a confession to the accusations levelled against us. Salehi's remarks fall under the Iranian policy that doesn’t opt for confrontation but follows other ways."

“Iranian influence is considerably increasing in the Middle East at the expense of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; a matter that profoundly disturbs the Saudis, the US main ally. They don't want Iran to play any role in the region in the coming period. Especially after the Arab revolutions that toppled the autocratic regimes. They fear an embrace between Iran and the Arab Spring. They are trying hard to make this impossible and to defame Iran. They spare no effort to label Iran as a rogue state that sponsors terrorism and the country that is well able to endanger both international peace and security,” Sedqeian concluded.

US President Obama has told his administration to shore up the investigation on the plot. US Attorney General Eric Holder then confirmed that the detained Iranian defendant confessed his involvement in the attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador.

A criminal complaint filed 11 October in the Southern District of New York names Manssor Arbabsiar, 56, and Gholam Shakuri, an Iran-based member of Iran’s Quds Force, a special operations unit of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard, which is said to sponsor and promote terrorist activities abroad, according to the US Department of Justice.

Arbabsiar met in Mexico with a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) confidential source who has posed as an associate of a hyper-violent international drug trafficking cartel (the Los Zetas). They okayed a deal; the killing of the Saudi ambassador to the US in exchange for $1.5 million. Arbabsiar was under close US surveillance and on 29 September 2011 was arrested by federal agents at John Kennedy International Airport in New York. Arbabsiar confessed that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps funded, directed and approved the plot, and the causalities that would likely result.         

The head of the Jeddah-based Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies, Anwar Eshki, told Ahram Online that Saudi Arabia awaits the result of investigations carried out by the US and the UN Security Council. Dr Eshki said the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia doesn’t deal with serious cases like this one through remarks or speculation. "Let me tell you that US President Barack Obama phoned the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, before and after the announcement of the plot. We have learnt that Obama had told King Abdullah that [the Americans] have irrefutable evidence to prove Iran's involvement in the failed plot. The kingdom respects international laws and our decisions depend only on evidence, not blank words or reckless reactions."

"Iranian leaders, whether the elected leader (Ahmadinejad) or the supreme leader (Khamenei) didn’t contact King Abdullah to explain the matter and to personally deny the plot ... Saudi Arabia’s UN Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi asked the UN secretary-general “to bring this matter to the attention of the Security Council,” Eshki added

When asked by Ahram Online whether Tehran is the real instigator and sponsor of the plot, Dr Eshki said the Al-Khobar Towers bombing in 1996 in which 19 American Air Force personnel were killed and 372 wounded was executed by Iran to spoil US-Saudi relations and to develop sedition between the Saudis and the Americans, and this is what Iran always wants.

If it is proved that Iran is the instigator and financier of the plot to kill the Saudi ambassador, it means that Tehran sponsors the policy of “proxy terrorism". And if there is a state that sponsors and assists this kind of terrorism, the international community should take the necessary measures to stop this hazard, Eshki said.

Eshki lashed out at Iran saying there are many armed units belonging to the “leadership” in Iran, that are widely believed to be responsible for operations inside and outside the Islamic Republic, including the Quds Force who receive orders from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

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