The alleged plot on the part of an Iranian-American businessman in Texas to assassinate the Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and blow up embassies in Washington and Argentina has created a paroxysm of vituperative condemnation of Iran.
Mansour Arbabsiar’s “plot” would be a minor story in the news — just another crazy plot to blow up buildings and eliminate people the would-be assassins have some grudge against, except for the desire of the U.S. government to tie this to the central authorities in Iran, which they have tried to do immediately and perhaps precipitously.
It is notable that figures such as Secretary of State Hilary Clinton were ready to condemn not the alleged perpetrators of the plot, but the government of Iran itself. “This really, in the minds of many diplomats and government officials, crosses a line that Iran needs to be held to account for,” Clinton said. Attorney General Eric Holder declared, “The United States is committed to holding Iran responsible for its actions.”
These condemnations started even before Arbabsiar, who is an American citizen, has been indicted. His lawyer has already announced that if that happens, he will plead not guilty.
The government claims that Arbabsiar and another individual, Gholam Shakuri, contacted people they supposed were assassins from a Mexican drug cartel, Los Zetas, to carry out the plots. The connection to the “assassins” was exposed by a federal-paid drug informant. In fact, nothing actually happened beyond the alleged contacts. No explosives were purchased or placed, and no one was hurt. Moreover, from the information we have at present, the entire case rests on the statement of that one paid drug informant.
The mechanism to make the connection to the Iranian central government is the only one that the United States has ever been able to use to implicate Iranian central authorities in acts they consider anti-American — by tying the incident to the Qods force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The Qods force is a shadowy division of the Guard operating with only loose governmental control. They have allegedly been responsible for many killings of anti-government plotters both inside and outside of Iran. Allegedly — because direct evidence for their actions against the United States has never been proven in any definitive way.
In this case, the Obama administration claims to have clear proof of a connection between Arabsiar and Qods Force members. The evidence has not been released, however the government has asserted that Shakuri, now at large, was a member of the Qods force himself.
Most Iranian experts find this story to be far-fetched — at least the part that claims that Iran’s highest leaders either planned or approved such a mission. Such an adventure makes little sense in terms of Iran’s foreign policy and in rational politics. Virtually all observers of Iran agree that the country’s leaders, whatever rhetoric they might use in public, are exceptionally pragmatic and sober in their political actions. Iran’s leaders are not fools. They know that a violent plot on U.S. soil would be seen as tantamount to war. Moreover, Iran has studiously avoided any direct threat to the United States for decades.
Given the illogic of the U.S. accusations, it is not surprising that Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations and its Foreign Ministry both issued strong condemnations of the allegations put forward by the Department of Justice and Secretary Clinton.
Context is very important in assessing this event. There is currently a bill before Congress calling for increased sanctions against Iran called the Iran Threat Reduction Act. It seems that the timing of these accusations was designed to ensure favorable passage of the bill.
There is great danger for U.S. officials in a situation like this. The accusations against Arbabsiar may prove entirely specious. As a U.S. citizen, if he is indicted, he will have the right to a full trial, and can question the government on its sources of information. This is not going to be a military tribunal as held in Guantanamo. The potential for embarrassment of the government is very great.
Whatever the truth of this matter, there is no question that the accusations against the Iranian government are overkill. Certainly if Arbabsiar was involved in an assassination plot, and sufficient evidence to indict him can be found, he should be put on trial, but we should certainly be sober and measured before indicting the Iranian government itself for what appears to be a very silly, very idiosyncratic plot.
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