The alleged assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador to the US and Saudi and Israeli embassies is a bizarre one. It’s so bizarre that many question whether or not it’s a confection of the US government. The US government, according to this piece from The Washington Post, thought it very strange itself. Following the evidence, though, it concluded that the plot was real, that it went back to elements of the Iranian government, and that it marks a dangerous escalation in US-Iranian enmity.

Assassination plot was so clumsy, officials
at first doubted Iran’s role
Joby Warrick and Thomas Erdbrink

The straight-out-of-pulp-fiction plot by alleged Iranian operatives to assassinate a Saudi diplomat in Washington was so badly bungled that investigators initially were skeptical that Iran’s government was behind it, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

Officials laying out the details of the case owned up to their early doubts about an Iranian role as they sought to counter skepticism and confusion about the unusual scheme — one that happens to carry far-reaching international consequences.

Less than 24 hours after disclosing the disruption of the alleged plot, the Obama administration spent much of Wednesday outlining the evidence, not only to journalists but also to international allies and members of Congress. In briefings and phone calls, U.S. officials sought to explain how Iran’s vaunted Quds Force allegedly ended up enlisting a used-car salesman and a Mexican drug gang in a plan to kill Saudi Arabia’s U.S. ambassador and blow up embassies in Washington and Buenos Aires.

Western diplomats who were privately briefed by U.S. officials at U.N. headquarters in New York said the Americans expressed concern that the plot’s cartoonish quality would invite suspicions and conspiracy theories. “Everyone was surprised by the amateurishness of the plotters,” said one U.N. Security Council diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity under diplomatic protocol.

Some, including Juan Cole, find the incident too strange to believe. In his post about it, he thinks the alleged instigator, Mansour Arbabsiar too incompetent – perhaps crazy, perhaps a drunk – to have conceived of such a plot. Interesting argument, but flawed, I think. Cole, for example, thinks that Arbabisiar was wealthy because he had ‘$2 million in Iran.’ Well, Arbabsiar had real estate in Iran that was worth $2 million. That’s not at all the same as having $2 million in liquid assets. Nor does the supposition that Arbabsiar was crazy preclude the possibility that he actually did come up with a plan for assassination, harebrained as it was. Cole’s argument, essentially, is that he doesn’t trust the US government. That’s fine, I guess, but it’s not an argument with any substance; it’s purely emotive.

Reporting on Arbabsiar, The Washington Post takes a look into his personal life. What comes through is a very scattered personality, not particularly competent in business or his personal life. Again, this doesn’t preclude his coming up with a scattered plot and trying to make it work.

Mansour Arbabsiar recalled as upbeat about finances
during summer encounter
Peter Finn and and Julie Tate

CORPUS CHRISTI, Tex. — When Mansour Arbabsiar visited an old friend this August in Sanandaj, the capital of Iran’s Kurdistan province, the accused conspirator in the alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador was a picture of optimism.

“I’m going to make good money,” Arbabsiar told Tom Hosseini, a store owner in Corpus Christi, who has know Arbabsiar since the late 1970s, when both came to the United States as students. Arbabsiar, who had fistfuls of crisp new $100 bills, asked Hosseini to clear a couple of debts for him on Hosseini’s return to the United States.

Hosseini said in an interview Wednesday that he pressed Arbabsiar about his new business a couple of times but dropped the matter when it became clear that Arbabsiar wouldn’t talk about it.

Hosseini wonders whether Arbabsiar wasn’t referring to the alleged $1.5 million plot to hire Mexican gangsters to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States. And he wonders how anyone — but most especially an elite military organization such as Iran’s Quds force — would get involved with Arbabsiar in the first place.

Did Arbabsiar plot to assassinate the ambassador? I don’t know. I know what the criminal complaint says and what it says is entirely plausible to my eyes. ‘Plausible’, though, is not ‘proved’. There’s a lot of work to be done before anything is proved to a legal standard. That Arbabsiar has admitted to the major elements of the charged crime, though, does not support the idea that there’s nothing here.


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