The details of the alleged Iranian terror plot are getting more interesting and complicated by the day. In addition to experts analyzing its sketchy details, a significant amount has been written about Mansour Arbabsiar’s lifestyle and personality, with a former business partner and friend telling Reuters that “If they’re looking for 007, they got Mr. Bean.” But what’s more important is the way the plot is being further tied to Iran, even while the credibility of the two main witnesses is being seriously questioned (read this for more on the DEA and the DEA informant’s role in the plot).
Just consider the elaborateness of these allegations: not only did the conspiracy allegedly involve an Iranian assassination plot against a diplomat from Saudi Arabia on U.S. soil, it’s also being tied to the unrest in Bahrain and U.S. losses in Iraq. Thus, the unnamed “cousin,” who Arbabsiar described as a “big general in [the] army,” according to the complaint, is identified in a press release about new OFAC sanctions as Abdul Reza Shahlai — the same man who, as reported by Laura Rozen, was previously designated as the Qods Force deputy commander behind the 2007 raid in southern Iraq by a Shiite militant group that killed five U.S. soldiers. Robert Mackey of the New York Time’s blog The Lede also informs us that Saudi scholar and former royal family adviser Nawaf Obeid told McClatchy that Gholam Shakuri, the other Qods officer behind the alleged plot, was suspected by Saudi intelligence of “fomenting unrest in Bahrain on behalf of Iran’s government.”
So the first conspirator named by Arbabsiar is said to have harmed the U.S. in Iraq, and the second is allegedly behind the protest movement in Bahrain which is ongoing despite the crackdown by Bahrain’s ruling family with the help of some 1,500 Saudi and Emirati troops. Could this really be possible? Always. Is it likely or even plausible? Not really.
Some questions in addition to the ones I asked on the day the accusations were made public:
1) The first mention of Arbabsiar’s “cousin” in the FBI complaint is made by the DEA informant, CS-1: “During their July 14 meeting, CS-l asked ARBABSIAR about ARBABSIAR’s cousin…” This means that the initial conversation about Arbabsiar’s cousin was not documented. Why is that and what did it involve?
2) Since the DEA informant is a “paid confidential source”, how are we to assess his role in the plot, considering his incentives (not necessarily restricted to financial ones) to bring Arbabsiar in? (Also read Stephen Walt’s comments about the FBI’s track record with these kinds of conspiracies.)
3) Would a high-level Qods force member not be able to assess Arbabsiar’s shady and shaky character before asking him to carry out an extremely risky assassination attempt with his own reputation on the line? Was the Iranian Mr. Bean his only option?
4) Even if Arbabsiar’s cousin is indeed Shahlai, and Shahlai is who the U.S. claims he is, does he represent the Iranian government? What if Shahlai, for various possible reasons, acted on his own accord? In other words, was this an Iranian plot or an Iranian cousin’s plot?
Again, the question is not whether Iran is capable of terrorism (because it is) or about Arbabsiar’s guilt, but whether the Iranian government was behind an act of international terrorism on U.S. soil. When the media headlines pieces on this case using phrases like “Iran plot” it is going to be remembered by readers as such regardless of the facts presented. The long-term effects of this on the U.S. psyche remain to be seen, but is there enough evidence to even make that claim at this point? This question is particularly important when prominent pundits such as those that pushed for the invasion of Iraq are pushing for a military response to Iran. Consider the recent words of well-known neoconservative Reuel Marc Gerecht in the Wall Street Journal:
The White House needs to respond militarily to this outrage. If we don’t, we are asking for it.
Until hard evidence is offered by the Obama administration to back up its far-reaching allegations, more questions need to be asked. It’s disconcerting that while the U.S. is gearing up to respond with further punitive measures against Iran, the most important question hasn’t even been adequately answered yet.