That Iranian Plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador

Editor’s note: We do not normally print articles from outside of the Asian region. However, there is considerable concern over the veracity of US claims of an Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in the United States. We share that concern.

As the philosopher George Santayana famously said: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Reading about the recent allegations of the Obama administration that Iran was behind a plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States, one has to be perplexed and suspicious. It is perplexing because it makes absolutely no sense.

It is also perplexing because if the Obama administration is wrong, if it listened to overzealous agents out to perpetrate a sting, then the US will once again be discredited in the Middle East, as it was when Bush Administration Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice conjured up an Iraqi smoking gun that could turn into a nuclear cloud, only to discover that there was neither cloud nor gun.

What does Iran have to gain by assassinating the Saudi ambassador, who is pretty much a non-entity, when one considers the larger geopolitical games between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and when there are plenty of Saudi dignitaries to assassinate in Middle Eastern areas where the security system is considerably less safe?

Those who have seen the amended criminal complaint, which implicates an Iranian-American used-car salesman from Corpus Christi, Texas as the central figure in the plot, as provoking considerable suspicion that it was mainly the result of an FBI sting operation. And, like many FBI sting operations since Sept. 11, 2001, there are questions whether over-enthusiastic agents didn’t lead the suspect into going well beyond what he thought he was getting into.

The suspect, described in news stories as untrustworthy and disorganized, has confessed and implicated his cousin, Ali Gholam Shakuri, an officer in the Iranian Quds Force, in the plan to kill the Saudi Arabian Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir. However, it may well have arisen from an undercover informer for the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

Arbabsiar apparently thought when he met the DEA informant that the man was part of a Mexican drug cartel whose main purpose was to arrange the purchase of large amounts of Afghan opium. In the complaint, Arbabsiar reportedly told the DEA informant that he was "interested in, among other things, attacking an embassy of Saudi Arabia.”

Whether that idea was planted can’t be known. But what Arbabsiar appears to have been looking for was a deal on heroin controlled by officers in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran. Bloomberg reported that Arbabsiar told the DEA informant he represented Iranians who "controlled drug smuggling and could provide tons of opium." That was about as close as Arbabsiar got to fomenting a plot to killing a Saudi ambassador in the US.

The allegations sound suspicious because the United States has a discreditable record of making up the story of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before invading that country. In that sense, one has to hope that the Obama administration remembers the past shenanigans of the Bush administration prior to invading Iraq.

Then again, why shouldn’t the Obama administration repeat the mistakes of the Bush administration on this issue, since it has been consistently developing the kind of hard-line anti-Iranian attitude that is reminiscent of the Bush administration’s anti-Iraq posture before invading that country?

Iran and Saudi Arabia are traditional competitors, but unlike what most American “specialists” on Iran claim, the chief reason is not the religious differences between them. The chief reason is that in the post 9/11 era, Iran has remained a major Middle Eastern power. In that capacity, it has consistently remained opposed to the American hegemony of that region.

Given the fact that the Obama administration has taken the lead in alleging the “Iranian plot,” one is tempted to think that some low-level functionaries in Iran might have been involved in their attempts to conjure up an idiotic plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador.

Second, and alternatively, it is possible that the Obama administration, in its desperation to win Jewish votes in the next presidential election, is overstating the significance of that allegation, but is still remaining careful not to claim that Iran’s top leaders were involved in it. Third, there is also the possibility that, after losing its strategic dominance in the Middle East and North Africa as a result of the turbulence created by the Arab Awakening, the United States wishes to create an anti-Iranian Arab nexus as a smoke screen to recreate its dominance in those regions.

As much as the autocratic Arab regimes served as pillars supporting the US hegemony of the Arab world in the post-World War II decades, their remnants may still be counted on to play a similar role in its recreation now. After all, the relationship between the US hegemony and the autocratic regimes in the Middle East was nothing if it was not symbiotic.

The allegation that Iran’s elite Qods force was involved in the plot to kill the Saudi ambassador is too silly to believe. The Qods force has ample room to challenge American hegemony in Iraq and Afghanistan for it to take the suicidal step of attempting to commit a crime inside US borders. Iran does not even consider Saudi Arabia as a country in the same league to challenge its strategic maneuvers in West Asia or the Middle East.

It is only when one considers the possibilities of US-Saudi maneuvers to create an anti-Iranian nexus in the Arab world that Saudi Arabia gains significance, that this story also starts to sound familiar. Even then, the risks of such a potential nexus associated with the long-term prospects of peace and stability in the Middle East are just too grave.

(Ehsan Ahrari, Ph.D. is a specialist in great power relations and transnational security. His latest book on great power relations is entitled The Great Powers and the Hegemon: Strategic Maneuvers. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it.)