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The Alleged Assassination Plot: Iranian versus American Views

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

13 Oct 2011 19:02Comments

Divided perspectives on the official narrative.

iranplot2.jpg[ survey ] The news, announced Tuesday, that agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Administration had succeeded in disrupting a plot to commit a "significant terrorist act in the United States" tied to Iran, aiming to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States with a bomb and then to carry out further bomb attacks on the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington, D.C., continues to command headlines in the United States, Iran, and around the world. Pundits have been speaking about the issues, and American, Iranian, and Saudi officials have been exchanging angry words. The following is a survey of the reactions here in the United States and among Iranians, both in Iran and in the diaspora.

Reactions in the United States

In the United States, the reactions from various corners have been predictable. With very few exceptions, most notably Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor, the mainstream media faithfully accepted the official narrative that the Islamic Republic did in fact plot to carry out an assassination and terrorist attacks in Washington.

The alleged plot has been used by some to threaten Iran. Vice President Joe Biden said on ABC's Good Morning America, "The Iranians are going to have to be held accountable" and "nothing has been taken off the table." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that the United States "will be consulting with our friends and partners around the world about how we can send a very strong message that this kind of action, which violates international norms, must be ended." Thomas Kean, former chairman of the 9/11 Commission, told CNN's Erin Burnett that the alleged plot "surprises me," and that the plot is "pretty close to an act of war. You don't go in somebody's capital to blow somebody up." Representative Peter King from New York, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told Burnett that the alleged Iranian plot should be taken seriously by U.S. officials. "This would have been an act of war. It has raised this relationship, between the United States and Iran, to a very precipitous level. This violates all international norms, it violates all international laws.... We can't allow this to go without a strong reaction." Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, released a statement condemning the alleged plot and declaring, "This is dangerous new territory for Iran. It is the latest in a series of aggressive actions -- from their nuclear program to state sponsorship of terrorism, from complicity in killing our soldiers in Iraq to now plotting hostile acts on U.S. soil. This episode underscores the need for concerted international unity to confront Iran." Robert Jordan, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, opined that the Saudi ambassador was a plausible assassination target because "he could be counted on to be a collaborative and positive force between the United States and Saudi Arabia. It is also an attack on the United States to attack this ambassador."

At the American Enterprise Institute, the neoconservatives and their allies are indulging in an expected chorus of "I told you so." See here to read what Michael Rubin, one of AEI's most prominent Middle East pundits, says about the alleged plot. Accepting the official narrative, another AEI neocon, Ali Alfoneh, an Iranian who specializes in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), declared that if it is Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei "or the IRGC who is responsible for the terror plot, the Islamic Republic should be held responsible and should also pay a price for its adventurist policies." Maseh Zarif, also of AEI, declared, "Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force -- the organization overseeing Iran's global terrorist activities and reporting directly to Iran's leader Ali Khamenei -- has been plotting a mass-casualty attack on American soil targeting Saudi Arabian interests." He concluded, "The significance of this plot cannot be overstated: the Iranian government is now attempting to carry out terrorist attacks on American soil."

Others who customarily try to maintain a reasonable posture also seem to accept the official narrative. Asked by NPR's Steve Inskeep whether he had any doubts about the accuracy of U.S. government statements, Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations responded, "I don't know what the evidence about this is, but I'm not in a position to doubt it." Robert Chesney, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law and a senior editor at the Journal of National Security Law and Policy, described this "remarkable development" as "very scary." Steve Clemons of the Atlantic declared, "The US has reached a point where it must take action" and "this is time for a significant strategic response to the Iran challenge in the Middle East and globally."

None of these experts was asked about, or commented on, the assassination of a foreign diplomat in Washington that was carried out by a U.S. ally. On September 26, 1976, Orlando Letelier, former Chilean ambassador to the United States, and his American assistant Ronni Moffitt were assassinated in Washington by agents of Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA), Chile's secret police under fascist dictator General Augusto Pinochet. Of course, Pinochet was America's chosen dictator, just as Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi was, and thus nothing happened to him or his government. The assassination was organized by a former CIA agent, Michael Townley, who now lives in protective custody somewhere in the United States.

And, of course, none of the experts made any comment about whether international laws must be respected equally by all nations, or whether they are simply a tool that the United States may employ to punish others, without feeling particularly compelled to abide by them itself. The question is: Given the U.S. track record in this field, why should we lend credence at this point to the allegations that the scheme described by the Justice Department was organized by the Islamic Republic, given the present dearth of evidence?

A few sober, more objective analysts are calling for cool heads to prevail, analyzing the possibility of the plot in a more rational way, and recommending diplomacy with Iran to defuse the situation. Robert Baer, a former CIA agent with 25 years of experience in the Middle East, said, "The Quds Force has never been this sloppy, using untested proxies, contracting with Mexican drug cartels, sending money through New York bank accounts, and putting its agents on U.S. soil where they risk being caught.... The Quds Force is simply better than this." In a Huffington Post article, Reza Marashi and Trita Parsi wrote, "The hawks in Washington will use these new allegations to support their preconceived notions on why defusing the Iran crisis cannot be done -- the timing isn't right; we need to garner more leverage by escalating the pressure; this regime needs enmity with America for its survival and so forth" -- and the hawks at AEI and elsewhere have already done just that. Max Fisher, associate editor of the Atlantic, questioned, as I did, how Iran could possibly stand to benefit from what seems to be a completely pointless and amateurish assassination plot. Vali Nasr wondered aloud, "It is difficult to see what Iran would have gained by simultaneously escalating tensions with its main regional rival and also ratcheting up tensions with the United States." And read the article by the always excellent Glenn Greenwald and the many questions he raises.

Iranians' views, at home and abroad

In considering their views, we may look at Iranians in three broad groups: supporters of the Islamic Republic, including the hardliners and conservatives; the reformists and supporters of the Green Movement; and the Iranian-oriented media based outside the homeland.

In the conservative/hardline camp, the views have been overwhelmingly negative, as one would expect. An editorial by Alef, the website published by Majles deputy and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad critic Ahmad Tavakoli, was titled, "The U.S. Rewarded Iran." It opined that it was naïve and overly optimistic to believe that the release from jail of American hikers Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer would lead to improved relations with Washington. The piece continued, "It is clear that this is a scenario for putting pressure [on Iran] with multiple goals."

Several conservative websites -- including, for example, Entekhab -- quoted former CIA agent Robert Baer (see above). Fararu, a website close to Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, translated and posted Baer's article in Time magazine about "the stupidity of the claims against Iran." Political pundit Sadollah Zarei said in article distributed by Fars, the news agency controlled by the Revolutionary Guards, that "the new story by the United States can mark a new beginning for terrorist operations by the U.S. intelligence agencies against the Islamic world, and therefore one must be on guard for new phases of this dangerous show."

Jahan News, the website published by hardline Majles deputy and former Revolutionary Guard officer Ali Reza Zakani, mocked the Iranian American arrested for his alleged involvement in the plot, Mansour Arbabsiar, and stated that he was convicted and jailed in New York ten years ago for theft. It also published an article by Hasdi Sharifi, who called the announcement of the plot by Attorney General Eric Holder a "coordinated effort by by the American-Zionist mass media."

Mashregh News, a website close to the security forces, said that the American claims are aimed at preventing Iran and Saudi Arabia from establishing better relations. "What would be the benefit for Iran in assassinating Saudi Arabia ambassador? This is the the questions that U.S. officials must respond to." It also opined that another goal is to distract the public from the "Occupy Wall Street movement."

Kayhan claimed that the "U.S. scenario" is in fact a "project...to scare people about Islam." It asserted that the timing of the announcement was tied to Khamenei's trip this week to Kermanshah.

Tabnak, a website close to former top Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei, published an article by Isa Golvardi, "The U.S. Claims, From Myth to Reality," in which he warned that Iran must quickly recognize various aspects of "this dangerous game" and prepare to confront it. He added that one goal of the claims is to put pressure on Iran so that it will not defend the people and government of Syria.

Officially, Iran summoned a Swiss diplomat to the Foreign Ministry and asked him to convey the nation's strong protest to the United States, which has an interest section at the Swiss Embassy.

Majles Speaker Ali Larijani said, "It became clear yesterday [Tuesday] that the Americans have committed a stupid act. We have normal relations with Saudi Arabia and there is no reason for us to do the childish acts that they [the Americans] are talking about."

Brigadier General Hossein Salami, deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards, said, "The U.S. claim about the involvement of the IRGC members in the fake conspiracy to assassinate an Arab diplomat in the U.S. is ridiculous. They want to create division between the Sunnis and Shiites."

Judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani said that "exporting the [Islamic] Revolution does not need terrorism." Ali Akbar Javanfekr, director of IRNA, Iran's official news agency and an ardent Ahmadinejad supporter, said that the alleged plot was "a child's story" and "a fabrication.... They want to take the public's mind off the serious domestic problems they're facing these days and scare them with fabricated problems outside the country." Javanfekr told CNN that he had never heard of those accused in connection with the alleged plot. "I think the U.S. government is busy fabricating a new scenario and history has shown both the U.S. government and the CIA have a lot of experience in fabricating these scenarios and this is just the latest one," he said. "I think their goal is to reach the American public. They want to take the public's mind off the serious domestic problems they're facing these days and scare them with fabricated problems outside the country."

Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations Mahammad Khazaei sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in which he stated, "I am writing to you to express our outrage regarding the allegations leveled by the United States officials against the Islamic Republic of Iran on the involvement of my country in an assassination plot targeting a foreign diplomat in Washington. The Islamic Republic of Iran strongly and categorically rejects these fabricated and baseless allegations, based on the suspicious claims by an individual. Any country could accuse other countries through fabrication of such stories. However, this would set dangerous precedents in the relations among States."

Referring to the United States, Foreign Minister Salehi said, "This is an unwise scenario and they will offer apology to Iran soon because of the allegation." He added, "Iran-Saudi relations are good and if there is any disagreement it is related to international issues, not bilateral ones." Jahan News also criticized Salehi, saying, "Hugging Saudi Arabia is not the only way to show that the U.S. claims are false."

Among the reformists and supporters of the Green Movement, reaction varied. Kaleme, the website close to Mir Hossein Mousavi, and Saham News, which is close to Mehdi Karroubi, have been silent on the issue. In its Thursday edition, the reformist newspaper Etemad published opinions by experts. The lead article, "Iran and the U.S. at the Boiling Point," by Seyyed Ameneh Mousavi, quoted various Iranian officials. Two other articles, by Mehran Karami and Ali Bigdeli, warned that Iran needs skillful diplomacy, and that the United States might want to do to Iran what it did in the case of Iraq -- first ratchet up the propaganda to prepare the public and then attack.

In its Thursday edition, Shargh, another leading reformist newspaper, ran a front-page article, "Washington Makes Accusations," in which the assassination plot charges were characterized as a new round of "psychological warfare by Washington against Iran."

The reformist Mardom Salari said in a Thursday editorial that Washington does not know what to do with Iran: "Two weeks after two U.S. citizens [Bauer and Fattal] were released, Washington has begun a new game with Iran, and by arresting two Iranian citizens has made new terror accusations against the government of Iran."

Former President Mohammad Khatami spoke indirectly about the accusations, and said that he is concerned about new "pretexts" for getting tough with Iran. He warned that any violent confrontation with Iran will be against the entire nation (not just the hardliners).

In the diaspora, the reactions among Iranians vary widely. The monarchists and supporters of the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization are in an almost celebratory mood, believing that the new developments will lead to new sanctions and even military strikes against Iran. Rah-e Sabz (JARAS), the pro-Green Movement website, reported on the accusations, without taking any position. Mihan, another pro-democracy website, spoke of "Iran's return to 'terrorist operations.'"

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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