Obama acknowledged at today’s presser that the U.S. had contacted Iran about the plot but State was coy later when asked about the who and how. According to CBS, though, it was Susan Rice who met with the Iranians at their mission to the UN. Offhand, I can’t remember the last time a U.S. diplomat ranked that high had a face-to-face with officials from Iran. Sounds like the conversation wasn’t pleasant:
In a reflection of U.S. concern about the incident and its implications, Mr. Obama took the unusual step of authorizing U.S. diplomats to deliver a tough message directly to Iranian representatives. The U.S. doesn’t have formal diplomatic ties with Iran.
“The message said this type of action is outrageous and a clear violation of international law, that the Iranian government has an obligation to hold any individuals associated with this plot accountable, to cease its support for terrorism and to meet its obligations to the international community,” a senior administration official said.
That’s good optics for the White House but I wonder how much of this meeting was “we know you did it” versus “no, seriously, did you do it?” U.S. intel theorizes that no plot to attack America could have happened without Khamenei’s approval, so this must go straight to the top. The only alternative is that some faction within the Quds Force has gone rogue and is now independently ordering operations that could have enormous consequences for the country. (If you doubt Obama’s willingness to impose those consequences, remember that the Saudis are involved here too.) That’s not totally unthinkable — Pakistan’s ISI has the same problem — but Khamenei’s ability to flush out and discipline rogue operators within his security ranks is much greater than Kayani’s in Pakistan, I suspect. If the “rogue” theory is true and responsibility for this plot goes all the way up the chain within the IRGC, then we’re either on the verge of a military coup in Iran or the plotters are about to be quietly disappeared by Iranian agents for defying the supreme leader’s authority.
Obama might task Rice with raising the issue before the Security Council and demanding new sanctions on some Iranian institution to be named later. Iran’s central bank is a prime target but, per the Journal, that could wreak havoc on international oil markets. The money question right now isn’t what we’ll do, though, it’s what Iran might still be planning to do. Apparently the Senate got a mighty ominous briefing yesterday:
Emerging from the nearly two-hour briefing , Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, speculated that, “There may be a chain of these things. … It’s hard for me to believe that there is just one plot involving the United States. I think we need to explore whether there are other plots going on … in other countries.”…
“This is a very unusual thing,” she said. “And because it’s unusual, because it’s Quds force, because it’s Revolutionary Guard, two agencies very high in the hierarchy in the Iranian government, you’ve got to think if they’re going after a Saudi ambassador here, what about a Saudi ambassador there or an Israeli ambassador there, or an American ambassador. So I think we should all be alert to that. But I am not saying there is a broader plot.”
I can’t tell if she’s just spitballing there or alluding to hard intel they got at the briefing, but if this really is just part of some massive “five families” operation where Iran hits a bunch of its enemies at once, something very strange must be going on inside the regime. Both David Ignatius and Martin Indyk reason that an act this desperate is evidence of just how weak and stressed Iran’s terror infrastructure is by all the upheaval in the region, but in that case, I’d expect them to tone things down for awhile so that they could focus on suppressing internal dissent, not come after the United States and Saudi Arabia not knowing what sort of destabilization mechanisms we might unleash in response. Yeah, yeah, I know: They’re a wounded animal and wounded animals tend to lash out. That logic badly underestimates their strategic cunning, though. And like I said yesterday, if they’re hell bent on starting a war with the U.S. or Saudi Arabia, there’s no need to go as far afield as they did. There are things they could do to American troops next door in Iraq or Afghanistan to provoke. I still don’t see the logic of any of this.