It seems the low season ended in the Middle East. In the last two-three weeks several interesting news stormed the media: the report on the increased production of uranium enriched to 20% in Iran and the world's reaction to it, a very negative (and I believe very realistic) report of the Special Commissioner for Human Rights in Iran Ahmad Shaheed, and mainly the news about the alleged terrorist plot aiming to take the life of the Saudi Ambassador in Washington, Adel Al-Jubeir. Along with the deteriorating situation in Syria, I do not think the timing is pure coincidence. Here I would like to present some arguments and details about the entire case, which simply do not fit into the picture.
Even among Iranian experts discord reigns, some believe that Iran's role in the attack is due to a deep internal crisis, while others exclude it as a fake attack made up by Americans and Saudis in order to tighten the already tough sanctions, or to push the whole thing even further. The whole thing has been hastily brought to the Security Council, despite the large holes in the evidence (for example missing recordings of the dialogs and the like). According to witnesses in addition to the assassination a shipment of opium was planned, but the crucial evidence tapes have allegedly never been recorded.
The attack should have been be carried out by the Mexican drug cartel Zetas, and its aim was allegedly the killing of the Saudi Ambassador Al-Jubeir by a bomb in a busy restaurant in Washington, with subsequent bombings of the Embassies of Saudi Arabia and Israel. Mansour Arbabsiar advanced $ 100,000 to the Mexicans and after the attack they would get the rest, in total one and a half million dollars. The contact person of the Mexicans, however, turned out to be a DEA informant (US Drug Enforcement Administration).
Let's analyze now the details of this terrorist attack.
One of the main organizers of the attack should be Mansour Arbabsiar, 56, an Iranian-American national, a divorced used cars salesman, a known scatterbrain haunted by his unpaid bills. In the past he has been arrested a couple of times for traffic violations, but nothing serious. He was not a religious ideologue and not a terrorist genius like Imad Mugniyeh, rather a looser, an ideal victim, lured by the vision of money. Last year he spent in Iran, where he moved after his business failures. To his acquaintances he boasted that he was making good money there. He was arrested after he wanted to fly to Mexico to meet the person and arrange the details of the operation.
The other people associated with the attack should be Abdol Reza Shahlaee, Arbabsiar's cousin, Hamed Abdollah, Ghasem Soleymani and Ali Gholam Shakouri, who should be a member of the Quds Force, a specialized unit of the Revolutionary Guards for foreign operations. Terrorist attacks in which Quds Force played a role, took place mostly in the nearest countries, ie. Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, or less exposed locations. They were planned by the Quds Force and executed by non-Iranian, however Shiite allies, thus Iran got away with a clean face. The use of a Mexican drug gang for such a strategic operation, in addition on American soil seems unlikely in this perspective and does not fit into the scheme of their behavior. The Saudi Ambassador can be killed easier on other better places than Washington. In addition, such a specialized unit as the Quds force has certainly many skillful pro fessionals to use than a failed Texas merchant, which also quickly confesses, than denies everything. Iran, as usual, blamed this terrorist attack on the MEK opposition group and Khamenei added the usual phrase that in case of an inadequate action by the United States Iran would reply with a great force. Iran's internal politics is now busy with the upcoming elections. After the experience with the disobedience of Ahmadinejad, Khamenei stated that he could proceed with a change of political system from presidential (direct election of the President by the voters) to a parliamentary one. This step would weaken or eliminate the position of the President (basically one of the last elected representatives) and replaced it with a Prime Minister, replaceable anytime in case of disobedience. It is a kind of crisis, when Iran could maybe welcome a war, but the steps the government would take to provoke it would be quite different.
Having observed the behavior and rhetoric, Iran has no interest in carrying out open terrorist attacks, or to claim responsibility for them. Its whole foreign propaganda is based on the self-styled victim role, humiliated by sanctions and falsely accused. Even if incidents happened, Iranians did their best to make them happen on Iranian soil, waters or airspace so they could claim to be "attacked." Even if Iran wanted to start a war, it desperately needs the support of the citizens, and that could be never gained by a terroris attack. Even groups like Hezbollah, founded and supported financially by Iran, are proclaimed to be independent local resistance.
In the past, the Iranian government carried out attacks on their arch-enemies abroad, usually dissidents and leaders of opposition groups. I should mainly mention the "Mykonos case" that could serve as a model for similar actions. The attack happened on September 17, 1992 in Berlin's Mykonos restaurant and left four dead, Sadegh Sharafkandi, Fattah Abdoli, Homayoun Ardalan and their translator Nouri Dehkordi. To carry out the assassination, firearms with silencers were used, not a bomb. There were also other people in the rooms who were not targeted and survived the attack. Other attacks such as the assassination of former Prime Minister Shahpour Bakhtiar and his aide Abdul Rahman Boroumandi in Paris in 1991, Kazem Rajavi from the MEK, Prince Shahriar Shafiq (cousin of the late Shah) and many others. All were killed quietly by a firearm, or stabbed, and the murders were directly targeted at them without unnecessary loss of lives. Bomb as a weapon was used to murder Bijan Fazeli. It exploded in a Persian video store in London. However, a bomb attack in a public place with many casualties to remove one person is not typical for Iranians.
If really Iran was behind the the whole case, the next question is what could Iran achieve by killing the Ambassador. Al Jubeir was not a member of the royal family, nor had a direct influence on the policy of Saudi Arabia. If the government was not directly seeking confrontation or more sanctions, the strategic importance is minimal. An other possible explanation could be an individualistic action carried out by several people without the knowledge of the commanders of the Revolutionary Guards. The question is, what they wanted, or could achieve. It seems unlikely that individuals or a limited group could have a broader strategic plan. Perhaps the most likely possibility is that the whole fuss was just about drugs. It is widely known that the Revolutionary Guards are involved in the narcotics trade, so it could be a believable core of the case. To add a terrorist attack is not at all difficult. It need just a little imagination and for the warmongers it just came as a gift from the sky.
Those who could profit from this "attack" are the Saudis, Iran's traditional rivals in the region. They compete in local conflicts for the support of the leaders and people in mixed Sunni-Shiite areas (Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen, etc.), they compete in oil exports, and their relationship is complicated by the conciliatory attitude of KSA toward the U.S. and Israel. Saudis look with the highest suspicion at Iran's nuclear ambitions and have repeatedly called for the provision of nuclear weapons should Iran obtain them. Iran can credit some provocations and attempts to escalate the conflict by defiant and provocative rhetoric, missile tests and military exercises, arresting foreign nationals (especially Americans), and incidents between vessels in the Persian Gulf. Let's add reports of seized weapons shipments to Syria and militant organizations like Hezbollah, Hamas or Sadr's militia in Iraq and we have a thick bundle of arguments sufficient for a media soup for what is called a "pre-emptive strike". We will see whether the Americans and the Saudis will push through further sanctions despite the opposition of Russia and China. There are voices for sanctions against the Central Bank, through which cash flows into the country for oil payments. Military solutions are never a priori swept off the table, the question is just how many countries dare to engage in a war with such a hard nut to crack like Iran.