Iran’s Alleged Assassination Plot and Its Political Fallout

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The Justice Department on Tuesday unsealed a complaint against two Iranians alleging a state-sponsored terrorist plot by members of Iran’s Quds Force against the Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir. The complaint alleges that Manssor Arbabsiar, a U.S.-Iranian dual citizen, and his al Quds handler, Gholam Shakuri, tried to hire a DEA confidential source to detonate a bomb that would kill al-Jubeir in Washington, D.C.

The complaint says the confidential source:

“is a paid confidential source [who previously] was charged in connection with a narcotics offense by authorities of a certain U.S. state. In exchange for CS-1’s cooperation in various narcotics investigations, the State charges were dismissed. CS-1 has previously provided reliable and independently corroborated information to federal law-enforecement [sic] agents; this information has led to numerous seizures of narcotics.”

During a press conference unveiling the plot, Attorney General Eric Holder said Arbabsiar had confessed to the plot and to Iran’s involvement. An initial reading of the complaint compiled by the FBI and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, suggests this is a serious and growing story, particularly because a fair amount of hard money is involved: Arbabsiar allegedly transferred $99,920 to a covert FBI bank account as a down payment on the hit, according to the complaint.

If Shakuri is indeed a high-ranking member of Iran’s Quds Force, and if Arbabsiar was working for him in planning this attack, this story is going to continue to develop as the U.S. unspools its response. The Quds Force has attacked U.S. troops in Iraq, and during the Clinton administration, Janet Reno said they were behind the attack on the U.S. Air Force residence at the Khobar Towers in Dharain, Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 and wounded hundreds more. The Treasury department has already announced sanctions against five individuals allegedly involved in the plot. Holder said other actions were imminent. No one is discussing a military response at this point.

There are some immediate political ramifications to the plot’s exposure.

The role of law enforcement in this case will be an issue. If, as it appears in the complaint, the Iranians approached the DEA source, Democrats will say it is proof that law enforcement is a crucial tool in counterterrorism.

In addition, Obama’s Iran policy will now take center stage in the national security discussion for 2012. His success in hitting Tehran with sanctions has mostly subdued GOP detractors who were initially critical of his attempts at diplomatic outreach to the Iranians. But with a presidential election now hitting its stride, the discourse will likely revert to accusations from the right that Obama has been too soft on Iran. The extent of that issue will depend in part on Obama’s response to the alleged plot.


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