Tue, Oct 11, 2011 | Rubin Reports | By Barry Rubin
Is Exposure of a Direct Iranian Plot to Launch Terror Attacks in Washington DC A Turning Point?
It should be, but will it be?
ABC News has broken a story about the disruption of a major Iran-backed terrorist plot to stage an attack on U.S. soil. According to U.S. officials, the plan was to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States and to attack the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington D.C. Parallel attacks were planned for these two countries’ embassies in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The case is still being developed, and it isn’t clear whether the origin of this plot goes back to Tehran. According to ABC’s sources, Manssor Arbabsiar — an Iranian American living in Texas — approached an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration, thinking he was speaking with a member of a Mexican drug gang for help in the proposed attacks. He said he was acting on behalf of a cousin, Gholam Shakuri, who might be a Revolutionary Guard official involved in terrorist operations.
He offered $1.5 million for the killing, with a $100,000 down payment in two installments being paid by Arbabsiar while on a visit to Iran.
These two men have been charged with conspiracy to kill, among other charges. Arbabsiar, who is now cooperating with the prosecution, also offered to provide opium in large quantities for the Mexican drug cartels. Apparently, the FBI has a lot of evidence, including recordings of meetings and telephone calls with Arbabsiar.
Let’s assume that this story is accurate. What’s most important here is not the innate sensationalism of this dramatic story, but its political implications. An Iranian official — perhaps two according to the indictment — is directly linked with a plan to stage terrorist attacks on American soil in which Americans would certainly have been killed or injured. This amounts to an act of war.
Indeed, it is the first time in modern history that a foreign government has been caught planning a major terrorist attack on American soil.
President Barack Obama, Homeland Security, and other top agencies and officials have the evidence and full briefings into this matter if they choose to access them. What effect would this have on U.S. foreign policy?
Already, they have had high-quality intelligence. We know this from the congressional testimony of Defense and State Department officials:
— Iran is the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism.
— Iran is harboring al-Qaeda leaders on its soil and letting them plan attacks on America from that safe haven.
— Iran is training and supplying the Taliban with weapons and training to attack and kill Americans.
— Iran is deeply involved in attacking and killing U.S. personnel and citizens in Iraq.
And that’s not all. Is this sufficient evidence to persuade Obama that Iran regards itself as being at war with the United States? That the top priority of U.S. Middle East policy — and very possibly the number-one priority of U.S. foreign policy generally — should be to counter Iran and revolutionary Islamism? And I don’t mean by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and Hezballah as moderates!
In other words, is this case going to be the smoking gun — or, perhaps, the smoking bomb — that gets U.S. policy on the right course? It should be, though I suspect it isn’t. But those who would be president and Congress should take note and learn from this event, even if the current president doesn’t.
Here are the court documents, courtesy of CBS. Nice when the mass media actually covers a story.
Here’ the Justice Department press release.
And the FBI’s press release.
But before the Obama administration brags about its success let’s consider two things:
First, it’s easy to catch a terrorist when he walks in and involves an undercover agent, but what if he had contacted a regular Mexican drug gangster?
Second, if that had happened might the Mexican drug cartel have used weapons sold to them in a U.S. government program sponsored by the Justice Department to kill U.S. citizens in Washington DC?
There is no doubt that this is a strange story. The idea of Iran’s government using a Mexican drug gang to carry out an attack is bizarre and unprecedented. The idea that this is some kind of Obama Administration conspiracy to make themselves, and particularly the attorney-general, look good is paranoid. It should be pointed out that these are the same gangs it was arming and that the plot was not uncovered due to White House brilliance but to sheer luck.
The Saudis have publicly accepted that the attack was real:
“The burden of proof is overwhelming… and clearly shows official Iranian responsibility for this. Somebody in Iran will have to pay the price, whatever the level of these persons is,” Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal said.
The one question is whether this was a low-level operation, though low-level officials shouldn’t be able to authorize a terror attack in Washington DC.