The Iranian terror plot: Why would Iran do it the way they allegedly did it?

posted at 6:51 pm on October 12, 2011 by Allahpundit

I’m asking earnestly. After thinking about it for a full day, I can’t come up with a theory. To be clear, I don’t doubt the DOJ’s account: Read Andy McCarthy on why 10/11 Truthers are goofy to think so many Justice Department personnel would be party to a trumped-up case with explosive geopolitical implications. They apparently have hard evidence, including a wire transfer of $100,000 and phone calls from the lead suspect to an alleged Quds Force member in Iran. But that doesn’t answer the questions of why Iran would do it, why they’d do it now, and why they’d do it here. In fact, even the regime’s archenemies in the Iranian dissident community can’t answer those questions:

As Iranians struggled Wednesday to comprehend an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, analysts here agreed that even if U.S. charges of official Iranian involvement were true, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his government likely had nothing to do with the scheme…

Amid new levels of infighting within Iran’s opaque leadership, Ahmadinejad at present wields no influence over the country’s two main intelligence and security organizations: the Ministry of Intelligence and the Revolutionary Guard Corps. They are firmly under the control of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Even against the backdrop of this power struggle, Iranian dissidents and analysts are hard-pressed to come up with reasons for any of Iran’s leaders to undertake such a risky plot. Even if carried out successfully, it probably would have been quickly blamed on Iran, the analysts noted.

Right. If Iran knew that it would have been found out and was intent on committing an act of war on the U.S. and Saudi Arabia anyway, why not do something closer to home where their odds of success are much better? They could have tried to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in any number of Middle Eastern countries where the Quds Force might more easily infiltrate. They could have targeted Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, who’s been making trouble for their pal Assad by showing solidarity with local protesters. They could have plotted some sort of spectacular attack against U.S. troops in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, either large scale a la the 1983 Beirut barracks bombings or smaller scale a la the kidnappings and murders of five American soldiers/a> in Karbala four years ago. The Quds Force is Iran’s A-team, equivalent to the Mossad in Israel. As Robert Baer, a former CIA analyst, told WaPo, “If they wanted to come after you, you’d be dead already.” And yet, their big idea for striking a blow against the Great Satan and its Wahhabist puppet in Riyadh was to … hook a used-car salesman from Corpus Christi up with an alleged member of a Mexican drug cartel? Seriously?

Speaking of which, what would the cartel get out of this arrangement except a bit of cash that it doesn’t need and a lot lot lot of new scrutiny from the world’s greatest military power? Shouldn’t Iran have known something was fishy when the supposed cartel member expressed interest in the plot? Time wonders:

One of my TIME colleagues in Mexico, Ioan Grillo, whose book, El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency, is being published this month, agrees. “For the Zetas, political murder is done concretely to protect their own business interests inside Mexico,” Grillo told me today. “It’s just not their modus operandi to carry out political murders in the U.S.”

Had Arbabsiar actually been dealing with the Zetas – and not a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration informant who posed as a Zeta operative – they probably would have conveyed that reality to him fairly quickly. And they would have likely dismissed the $1.5 million that Arbabsiar allegedly offered the D.E.A. informant. Ditto for the opium the Iranians allegedly threw into the deal. The Zetas, after all, are part of a Mexican drug-trafficking, kidnapping and extortion industry that rakes in as much as $40 billion a year. To risk that kind of cash flow by carrying out a five-alarm international hit for a million and a half bucks seems a non-starter. It also seems an organization like the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, for whom the Justice Department says Arbabsiar may have been working, should know better. Arbabsiar, who lives near Mexico in Corpus Christi, Texas, certainly should have been wiser.

Mafias like the Zetas don’t like to draw attention to themselves for business reasons. Iran, which has some experience with mafia tactics, should have figured that out before proposing a bomb plot in America’s capital targeting a hugely influential diplomat. In fact, read this Danger Room post for an overview of just how bizarrely amateurish the whole operation was, right down to the kitschy euphemisms used for executing someone. Here’s Robert Baer again, writing in Time and trying to make sense of it all:

In its 30-year history of attacking the West, the Quds Force went out of its way never to be caught with a smoking gun in hand. It always used well-vetted proxies, invariably Muslim believers devoted to Khomeini’s revolution. And when the operation was particularly sensitive, they gave the job to Lebanon’s militant Shi’ite Hizballah, organization the Iranians themselves had founded and which has an unsurpassed record in political murder. Hizballah has cells all over the world, including in the United States. But the point of it all was that if caught — and they were, more than once — Iran still enjoyed plausible deniability, a commodity in this business worth its weight in gold. So, if this plot was genuine, why didn’t the Iranians use tried and tested Hizballah networks and keep Iranian nationals, much less unknown Mexican narcos, out of it?

The possible explanations are disturbing as the plot itself. One would be that the Iranian regime has lost control of the IRGC. In that scenario, the convoluted internal political calculus of Iran’s internal power struggles would prompt the faction the plot to have Iranian fingerprints all over this, in order to provoke a confrontation with Washington — in their minds, such a confrontation would be the only way to reunify Iranians behind Khomeini’s revolution.

Another possibility is that this is the work of the Iranian opposition, presumably intending to frame the regime, and draw the United States into conflict that would bring down the mullahs. The Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen e-Khalq, which remains on the U.S. list of international terror organizations despite a strenuous lobbying effort to get itself delisted, is perfectly capable of pulling something like this off.

I don’t know about the second theory but the first makes no sense to me since a Quds Force operation, whether or not authorized by the regime, still should have been more professional than this. If they’re looking to goad America into war for whatever political reason, a successful operation that blew up a few ambassadors/buildings would have gone a lot further than this failed attempt has. As it is, U.S. officials say that our retaliation will consist of isolating Iran globally with new sanctions, blah blah blah. Obama couldn’t have gotten away with something that low key if blood had actually been spilled, so if the IRGC really was intent on starting a war, they did an awfully lame job of it. One other possibility that’s sure to be popular with Obama’s critics is that Iran did this simply to show how vulnerable America is under Obama and to test his mettle by daring him to respond to an act of war in kind, knowing that he’d settle for some soft diplomatic countermeasure instead. The problem with that theory is that The One is a big fan of covert operations himself and, as we know from the Bin Laden raid and the Awlaki strike, is perfectly willing to use special forces and the CIA against leaders of terrorist regimes. He won’t order a bombing run on Tehran but he might very well target higher-ups in the regime and/or the IRGC for revenge. And again, Iran would, or should, know that, which makes the price of ordering this terror plot potentially very, very high for the people who ordered it. All the more reason not to have done it. And yet, according to the DOJ, they did. Why?

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I would still like to know why Obama chose to reveal it now as opposed to any time during the 4 months following the first time he was briefed about it in June. I doubt it’s to distract people from Holder’s “F&F” problems. This is too serious a claim to make to try to save one guy’s career.

Other than that, Allahpundit’s questions in the post are very valid. But there are simple explanations to everything.

The why: there’s a covert war going on every day between Iran’s IRGC and western spy agencies worldwide, and this failed attempt is one of the events in this war. It could be a retaliation to some other big event that we just don’t know of, where Iran suffered some big losses.

The strange modus operandi: that’s the best the IRGC could come up with given the improved counter-terrorism efforts inside the US.

The why it failed: Hanlon’s Razor.

AlexB on October 12, 2011 at 9:55 PM

to seperate,the Real True Believers,
from,the True-Believers!:)

canopfor on October 12, 2011 at 7:43 PM

Baxter Greene on October 12, 2011 at 8:18 PM

Baxter Greene:Very well said and put,and mirrors my thinking!:)

canopfor on October 12, 2011 at 10:11 PM

Krauthammer has been stating on Fox News for the last couple days that the plot seemed intended to communicate to America that even if the Iranians’ ballistic missile technology isn’t presently up to snuff, they have other ways to get nuclear contraband into the US. If they can get non-nuclear explosives into the US, then they might be able to do the same with nuclear materials. And if they can do the later, then the US is under the constant threat of Iranian nuclear blackmail, and thus cannot effectively counter Iran’s conventional military activity, in whatever arena Iran chooses.

BCrago66 on October 12, 2011 at 10:14 PM


Did you read the Andrew McCarthy piece that AP linked to?

Yes. Andrew McCarthy admits he’s not in a position to know critical details of the case in the comments section. Did you read that?

He worked in the DOJ and with the FBI and other agencies. It is impossible – he says – to pull something like this off without patriotic Americans in those agencies blowing the whistle.

There were patriotic whistleblowers in Operation Fast and Furious too. It took over a year and a Congressional investigation before the public was informed of the magnitude of the scandal.

Give things time to develop. In the meantime, you might want to hold off on comparing people who are suspicious of Eric Holder’s “October Surprise” to 9/11 truthers.

Mike Honcho on October 12, 2011 at 10:14 PM

I don’t doubt the DOJ’s account:

I do; can you say False Flag??…

PatriotRider on October 12, 2011 at 10:36 PM

Why would the Iranians identify themselves as Qods Force to the Zetas? That makes no more sense than approaching the Zetas in the first place. Surely the Iranians would know that the Mexican drug cartels have more than enough money. If anything, the Iranians could offer them new types of more advanced weapons in exchange for the operation.

The one country that hates Saudi Arabia and the US more than any other at the moment is the Qaddafhi regime of Libya. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a Libyan operation with agents calling themselves Iranian (would the Mexicans really know the difference?). If they succeeded, Qaddafhi would have his revenge on Saudi Arabia, America and possibly foment war between Iran, another enemy of the regime, and Saudi Arabia.

Much of this whole thing just smells fishy to me.

NNtrancer on October 12, 2011 at 11:24 PM

“If they wanted to come after you, you’d be dead already.”

Apparently not.

In its 30-year history of attacking the West, the Quds Force went out of its way never to be caught with a smoking gun in hand. It always used well-vetted proxies, invariably Muslim believers devoted to Khomeini’s revolution. And when the operation was particularly sensitive, they gave the job to Lebanon’s militant Shi’ite Hizballah, organization the Iranians themselves had founded and which has an unsurpassed record in political murder. Hizballah has cells all over the world, including in the United States.

Hmm. You never risk your best assets for a minor operation. This may have been considered a minor operation — and if the “zeta operative” promised no fingerprints — well, there you are.

When you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.

unclesmrgol on October 13, 2011 at 12:08 AM

NNtrancer on October 12, 2011 at 11:24 PM

He probably didn’t. They have money trails and phone intercepts.

unclesmrgol on October 13, 2011 at 12:09 AM

I’m asking earnestly. After thinking about it for a full day, I can’t come up with a theory.

Here’s my theory why Iran did what they did.

Conservative Samizdat on October 13, 2011 at 12:12 AM

I would still like to know why Obama chose to reveal it now as opposed to any time during the 4 months following the first time he was briefed about it in June. I doubt it’s to distract people from Holder’s “F&F” problems. This is too serious a claim to make to try to save one guy’s career.


AlexB on October 12, 2011 at 9:55 PM

It does not make sense and the question it begs is “Why now?” Holder is just the most obvious and current responsible suspect. Holder is an outsider who is on the coat tail of the president. He is very expendable and probably will take the fall one way or the other. However he is not the only name associated with the criminal scandle. Those other attached names do not consider themselves or their careers expendable. This still is a poor half baked distraction, but from what we have seen in this administration, it is par for the course. At least they don’t have to worry about Obama messing them up. He cannot make a decision for fear he might be held accountalbe for what he said, so when he does make a decision it will be what ever is on the teleprompter.

Franklyn on October 13, 2011 at 2:19 AM

Thanks to Obama, Iran thinks the US is terminally stupid, so they probably felt it would be easy to pin the blame on Israel or the US, especially since it was on US soil.

They probably thought there was not much to fear from our internal security systems, based on the tragic fiasco of the preventable 9/11 (and the attack prior, which also had lots of warning). They can blame the US for not providing enough security.

As for “sending a message”, they had to have imagined themselves successful and hoped to spark a conflagration. They don’t have too much to fear from Saudi Arabia either. Aligned with Al Quaeda as they are, they would like it to be de-stabilized.

They know Obama won’t do anything so that explains their recklessness. A few drones in Iran could solve this (and many other Iranian issues), but Obama won’t do it.

virgo on October 13, 2011 at 4:11 AM

I’m not sure why people are so skeptical.
Iran is struggling domestically. The 1st reaction was to blame the yankees and rally domestic opinion.

Why USA + Saudi + Israel? Well, there is behind the scenes activity for the last few months on an number of planes involving this axis. As pointed out here by some Iranian nuclear scientists have been vanishing, with US approval.

These 3 elements are also cooperating regarding Syria, where behind the scenes since the summer the decision has been made in agreement to no longer support Assad. This would eliminate Iran’s #1 ally, threaten the Iranian regime which relies on its proxies and risk the last 20 years of Iranian foreign policy going up in smoke.

A domestic attack in the USA targetting Saudis + Israel is exactly the sort of reaction you might see to send the message that Iran can act as well against this new axis it sees as a threat. As for risking US reaction, I am frankly bemused ppl. For a few years now your top generals all stating that Iran is killing US soldiers in numbers.

There is no reaction to this, the precedent in in fact that the USA does not react at all. If the USA doesn’t react to killing of US soldiers, and a threat to unravel US policy in the region in any way for years.. Why would Iran be scared of a terror attack on a smaller scale in the USA. AllahP points out that the USA uses special ops agaist al qaeda, but America is still sending feelers out to Iran on directive of the Obama admin LONG after engagement has been exposed as a comical farce.. Because Obama is an ideologue. He is still of mind Iran can be bargained with.

There’s plenty of info available on Iran’s extensive ties in South + Central America, extensive ties to Narco terrorism networks, including Mexico. People are shocked they may be stepping up to employ some of these pathways + networks?? I am not. The plot appears amateur?? Well if not for some cluth interceptions if a bomb or two had gone off instead of being stopped no one would be talking amateurs now would they? Hindsight is 20/20.

Also you know all this talk about the quds force and how you would be dead / Ya ya, you know Israel took out the most important Quds link, and the 2nd most wanted terrorist in the world a few years ago. The vaunted Quds have yet to be able to break through to us despite their immediate declaration retaliation was coming. A number of plots were possibly halted incl INTL targets of Jews so far. They are not the CIA or the Mossad, if they were – They wouldn’t have been spinning wheels + failing to retaliate for this massive blow to the man who incidentally was the kingpin, planner, and INTL contact for these types of things in Iran. Imad Mouginyeh. Perhaps the blow by Israel was even more severe than we all realized to Iranian operations, and it was thought to be pretty severe as is.

The super respect shown by analysts like the ones allahp has linked to, was formed by the genius of Muginyeh and his operations over decades. But we found him, and we took him out in the heart of the intelligence quarter in Damascus in full public. Allahp has a post about it in the archives.

Plots have been foiled, you know the shoe bomber looked like an idiot too. But if that plane had been ripped apart no one would be laughing, and yet for years you’ve all been taking off your shoes ever since. It doesn’t usually play out like in the movies regarding how professional this all looks. Remember even my storied Mossad did not look so hot when you saw our operation revealed a while ago in Dubai. Still, would you want to tangle with our guys?

With love, from Israel.

saus on October 13, 2011 at 4:42 AM

Oh yes, forgot to remark that WH senior adviser Jarrett is extremely sympathetic to Iran (and was born there).

virgo on October 13, 2011 at 10:33 AM

This does have a strange odor to it. Mansour Arbabsiar is described by everyone who knew him as absent-minded, hapless, and (in the word used by all the UK papers) lazy.

His history is very similar to that of other briefly famous Muslim miscreants, like the Pakistani-American who tried to set off the car bomb in Times Square, and the Iranian-American taxi driver who attacked bystanders in San Diego with his cab, and then jumped out and attacked the closest to him with scissors.

In each case, including Arbabsiar’s, there was a recent history of financial failure and/or marriage problems, with resulting depression and a disaffection from American life. (Arbabsiar is relatively recently divorced from his second wife, and his previous home in Corpus Christi was foreclosed on. He and his ex-wife apparently each have a home in Round Rock now.) All three men had reportedly spoken of going back to their native countries.

Arbabsiar may thus have been in the mood to cooperate in a weird scheme to off the Saudi Ambassador. But the question becomes why anyone would choose him as a go-between with a Mexican cartel. Even supposing he might have been under pressure because of a threat to his extended family back in Iran — he’s just such a screw-up. It looks to have been absurd to pick him for the role he is alleged to have played.

I guess we’ll find out more in the coming days. At this point, I wonder how many in the FBI rank and file really had to know about this case.

J.E. Dyer on October 13, 2011 at 12:10 PM

All the more reason not to have done it. And yet, according to the DOJ, they did. Why?

Why not?


Nefarious hallucenations?

Charlie Sheen told them to do it?

A virtual plethora of reasons.

percysunshine on October 13, 2011 at 1:03 PM

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