AMU Homeland Security Intelligence Middle East Opinion

Iranian Plot to Assassinate Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Disrupted

By William Tucker

U.S. officials revealed details of a disrupted plot to assassinate Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. According to several reports, the plot included an Iranian-American who sought out help from a Mexican drug cartel to facilitate the assassination. The suspect, Manssor Arbabsiar, thought he was speaking with a representative of the Zetas cartel, but in reality the contact was a DEA agent. The complaint against Arbabsiar was filed in federal court in New York today and also mentioned two officials of the Iranian government. Arbabsiar and one of the Iranian officials, Gohlam Shakuri, are accused of conspiracy to kill a foreign official and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction along with several other counts. The other official of the Iranian government has not been named and Shakuri is still at large.

The details of the plot are laid out quite clearly in the criminal complaint, but questions of timing and capability remain. Its rather odd that Iran would reach out to a Mexican drug cartel to carry out this type of attack when Tehran has experience in carrying out international operations of this sort, not to mention the many terrorist organizations the country funds. The Zetas, or any cartel for that matter, have not shown any capability of carrying out a prominent assassination in the U.S. In the past, Iran carried out a series of assassinations throughout Europe and North America, along with a few bombings in South America. It is possible that Iranian capability in these types of operations have diminished in the ensuing years, however that is speculation at this point.

Questions of timing are more profound, however. As I wrote recently, Iran is trying to spread its influence throughout the Middle East. Recent events suggest that Iran is concerned about its ally in Syria and pushback from Saudi Arabia and Turkey. As expected, Iran responded by sparking renewed protests in Qatif and Bahrain, while making general threats to the U.S. as a way to relieve this pressure. These tried and true methods failed to work in eliciting the response Iran was hoping for. It is possible that this assassination plot, and the associated bombing plans, show that Tehran sees its position as weakening, and felt a need to strike outside of the Middle East. Again, this is speculation, but the intelligence war and the fight for supremacy in the Middle East has escalated. This raises another question; how will Iran respond?

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