Plot against Iran

Published : Nov 18, 2011 00:00 IST

Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi Ambassador to Washington. - SHAUN HEASLEY/REUTERS

Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi Ambassador to Washington. - SHAUN HEASLEY/REUTERS

Iran-bashing has become a popular pastime in the United States as the presidential election approaches.

DEMANDS for bombing Iran are getting louder by the day in the United States as the 2012 presidential election approaches. The chorus is led by right-wing politicians and Congressmen having strong ties with Israel.

Iran-bashing has become a popular pastime. Now top officials of the Barack Obama administration, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have joined the bandwagon. They were quick to take to the airwaves condemning the government in Teheran after a joint operation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) allegedly unearthed an Iranian plot to assassinate Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to Washington. President Obama, too, joined in to threaten Iran with dire consequences. Many Republicans who are vying for the presidency want the U.S. to declare war against Iran immediately.

When an assassination of a high-profile diplomat actually happened on American soil, the U.S. opted for a cover-up. In 1976, Orlando Lettelier, Chile's Foreign Minister under Salvador Allende, was assassinated by a hit squad despatched by Gen. Augusto Pinochet's secret service, DINA, on a busy street during daytime in Washington. Although the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had evidence that the assassination was carried out by agents of the Chilean secret service, the facts were suppressed and the pro-American Chilean government was given a clean chit. George Bush Senior, who was the CIA Director at the time, later went on to become the President of the country.

The main player in the alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador is a dubious character of Iranian origin, Mansour Arbabsiar. According to the American charge sheet, he was financed by sections of the Iranian security establishment. If the version of events put out in Washington is to be believed, Arbabsiar was given the task of hiring members of a Mexican drug cartel to carry out a hit on al-Jubeir and then blow up the Saudi embassies in Washington and Buenos Aires. The story reads more like pulp fiction. The Iranian government has accused Washington of running a comedy show. Intelligence analysts in the U.S. and retired CIA veterans have questioned the sensational announcement made in Washington in early October. The Saudi envoy in Washington is a minor player in the kingdom's politics and is not even a member of the ruling al-Saud family.

Bruce Reidel, a CIA veteran and a former adviser to the President, described the charges against Iran as fishy and echoed the sceptical views of most analysts who found it extremely difficult to believe that the government in Iran would go to the extent of assassinating a foreign diplomat on U.S. territory, and that too by taking the help of a Mexican drug cartel. The activities of the drug cartels are closely monitored by the U.S. and Mexican authorities.

The Obama administration's most serious charge is that the Quds Force, the intelligence wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), was involved in the plot. It is being alleged that $100,000 was wired by the Iranians as an advance payment. Iranian banks are prohibited by U.S. laws from dealing directly with Americans. The money was wired from a third country. The U.S. authorities have refused to divulge the name of the country or the manner in which the funds were routed to the U.S.

Though the U.S. Attorney-General, Eric Holder, was quick to blame the Iranian government, alleging that the conspiracy was conceived, sponsored and directed from Iran, the formal complaint only stated that the operation was directed by factions of the Iranian government. Even within the U.S. political establishment, there are very few takers for the story. Robert Baer, a former CIA officer who specialised on West Asia, told The Washington Post that the Quds Force has never been this sloppy, using untested proxies, the contracting Mexican drug lords, sending money through New York bank accounts and putting its agents on U.S. soil where they risk being caught the Quds Force is simply better than that.

Arbabsiar, a failed used-car salesman with a history of financial and personal problems, according to reports, was a victim of a sting operation by the FBI. Counterterrorism experts also point out that U.S. intelligence operatives are swarming all over Mexico and have close links with the Mexican security agencies. The terror suspects arrested recently in the U.S. have all been trapped by sting operations by the U.S. authorities. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has described the U.S. accusations as immature and predicted that the U.S. will ultimately be forced to apologise. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the U.S.' allegations were similar to those it made in 2003 about weapons of mass destruction, which formed the basis for the invasion of Iraq.

Iranian officials have accused the Mossad, the Israeli secret agency, and the exiled Iranian rebel group, the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MeK) of orchestrating the latest controversy. According to Iranian officials, Gholam Shakouri, the second Iranian named as a suspect, is an MeK member. He is a cousin of Arbabsiar. The Iranian authorities said that he travelled to the U.S. on a forged Iranian passport and documents provided by the Mossad. The MeK, which was designated as a terror group when it enjoyed the hospitality of the government of Iraq during the days of Saddam Hussein, has close ties with the U.S. security services. Iranian officials allege that MeK members have been used by Israel and the U.S. to target Iranian scientists and diplomats.

Kenneth Katzmann, an expert on Iran at the U.S. Congressional Research Service and the author of a book on the IRGC, told the IPS news service that Iran does not blow up buildings in Washington that invites retaliation against the Iranian homeland. The so-called terror plot unearthed by the U.S. authorities involved the blowing up of the Saudi envoy in a crowded Washington restaurant. The alleged plot was revealed at a time when Iran was facing increasing pressure from the West on issues relating to human rights and its nuclear programme. The United Nations' Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Situation in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, submitted a report critical of Iran's human rights record, in the third week of October.

A Special Rapporteur for Iran was appointed for the first time by the U.N. Teheran has said that his appointment was done under pressure from the West. In early November, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is all set to submit a report criticising Iran's nuclear programme, alleging that the country is preparing a nuclear warhead. In the third week of October, Obama called on the international community to institute the toughest sanctions on Iran. He went on to add that Iran would be made to pay a price for the alleged terrorist plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador. While accusing Iran of reckless behaviour, no mention was made of his administration authorising the killing of American and foreign nationals in countries like Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.

Mitt Romney, who is likely to be Obama's Republican challenger for the 2012 presidency, said he wanted two aircraft-carrier forces to be permanently deployed in the Persian Gulf region to act as a deterrent to Iran. It is obvious that the two leading contenders for the presidency are lending credence to the flimsy charges against Iran for petty electoral gains. A right-wing group, United Against a Nuclear Iran (UANI), which includes two of Obama's foreign policy advisers, demanded that the U.S. should make it clear that Iran will face the consequences for its actions, including military retaliation for attacks on Americans.

A recent opinion poll showed that the majority of Americans think that Iran is their country's main enemy. The focus on Iran also helps to deflect the attention away from the pro-democracy movements in neighbouring countries like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The Saudi authorities have been blaming Iran, without providing any evidence, for fomenting the democratic upsurge in Bahrain and for the stirrings in their own kingdom. WikiLeaks documents had quoted Saudi King Abdullah as urging the U.S. to lead a military attack on Iran to cut off the head of the snake and halt Iran's nuclear programme.

Senior American military officials have accused the Quds Force of interference in Iraq and Afghanistan as the U.S. military prepares for withdrawal from both the countries. Washington is, of course, not happy with the open support Iran extends to resistance forces like Hizbollah and Hamas. Iran's strong ties with Syria are another irritant for Washington and its allies in the region. In the last decade, Washington had unwittingly lent a helping hand to Teheran by overthrowing the Sunni fundamentalist Taliban in Afghanistan and the secular Ba'ath government in Iraq. The present Shia-dominated government in Baghdad has very warm relations with Teheran.

Some recent actions and pronouncements of the Obama administration seem to indicate that Washington has decided to stoke the brewing Sunni-Shia strife in the region. Ahmadinejad has made a public appeal to the Saudi authorities not to fall prey to the heinous conspiracy hatched in Washington. The U.S. administration is not interested in Iran or Saudi Arabia. They see their interests in having a dispute between Iran and Saudi Arabia they want to dominate our region, he told the Al Jazeera network. At the same time, he offered to investigate the accusations made by the U.S. We are prepared to examine any issue, even if fabricated, seriously and patiently, and we have called on America to submit to us any information in regard to this scenario, he said.

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