A failed plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's envoy to Washington was probably led by rogue elements in Tehran and was too amateurish to bear the stamp of Iran's leaders, analysts said Wednesday.
Tehran's repeated insistence that it is not a threat to the United States or the Arab world and the apparent lack of high-level coordination also indicates that the conspiracy lacked official backing, they said.
Washington has urged the world to take action against Iran following the disclosure by the US justice department of a plot to kill the Saudi ambassador, having pointed the finger at the Tehran regime, which denies any involvement.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton maintained that the foiled attempt had been "directed by elements of the Iranian government," but analysts said there was no evidence yet of any senior official involvement by Tehran.
Rasool Nafisi, a US-based Iranian-American scholar who studies Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, said the alleged use of a Mexican drug cartel and the lack of planning indicated no top-level approval.
"I suspect this is not the work of the Iranian regime, when you look at the choice of target, timing of action and type of actor," Nafisi said.
"Looking at assassinations in the past, normally they would have a group planning this kind of operation," he added, referring to Tehran's slaying of Iranian-Kurdish opposition leader Sadegh Sharafkandi in Berlin in 1992.
"In this case, it only seems to be a lone actor."
US authorities have named two suspects in the plot: a used-car salesman from Texas who is Iranian but also a naturalized US citizen, who has been arrested, and another man said to be an Iran-based member of the special operations unit, the Quds Force.
Officials said the assassination bid was broken open by a paid US source posing as a member of the Mexico-based drug cartel, which the defendants believed would provide explosives for the attack.
The complaint says Arbabsiar -- with the approval of Shakuri, alleged to be a senior Al-Quds official -- facilitated the wiring of approximately $100,000 into a US bank account as a downpayment for the assassination attempt.
But the attempt to launch such a bold attack on American soil when US-Iranian ties are at a low ebb, points away from the Iranian leadership, according to Anthony H. Cordesman, a national security expert at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
If it was directly involved, Tehran would be "basically countering years of efforts" to persuade Arab nations and the United States "that Iran is not a threat," although that did not mean such a link was impossible, said Cordesman.
"People do conduct very clumsy and inadequate plots and governments do not always coordinate with their senior leadership, he said, describing the plot as a "very low-level set of events," noting that details remained sketchy.
"No one in the United States government has provided any indication of how far this went through the leadership of the Al-Quds system, how the Al-Quds system coordinated with the leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, or whether a senior Iranian leader was involved," Cordesman added.
"We need to have facts coming from government sources, not speculations."
Suzanne Maloney, senior fellow at The Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, said much of what was known of the plot did "not fit the usual patterns of Iran's involvement with terrorist activities."
"It seems quite credible to me that it could be rogue elements, but I don't know to what degree the Iranian military tolerates such dissent," she said.
"The allegation that the world's leading sponsor of terror would deploy a Texas used-car salesman and freelance narco-terrorists in such a dramatic and unprecedented attack seems astonishing, quite frankly, and uncharacteristic of Iran's professionalized terrorist apparatus," Maloney added.
But if such a link was proved "this would be a major outlier for Iran," said Seth Jones, a former staffer at US special operations command and now a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation.
"It's outside of the scope of the kinds of stuff that they've done, certainly in the last decade," he added, referring to the Tehran regime.
by Arthur MacMillan
(c) 2011 AFP
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