What’s behind the “Iranian plot”?

Laura Secor writes: The weirdness of the Arbabsiar case has, unfortunately, fed a mill that already loves to churn up conspiracies. Who benefits? Blowing up a Washington, D.C., restaurant to kill a Saudi ambassador: exactly what would Iran stand to gain? Is that particular Saudi ambassador really in the way of any Iranian political objective? It doesn’t take a foreign-policy mastermind or an evil genius to see that assassinating him could only result in increased hostilities between Iran and the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. At worst, it could furnish the perfect pretext for a military attack on Iran. At best, it might provoke Saudi Arabia to harass Iran with all the means at its disposal: driving down the price of oil, suppressing Bahraini Shiites, stirring up sectarian trouble in Iraq, and encouraging the Syrian opposition, to name a few.

I’ve long believed that the Iranian regime stands to gain from provoking external antagonism— up to a point. Not war, but rumors of war: the Iranian regime excels in dancing up to the line, then drawing back. (Here again the current plot looks out of character: too brash, too clumsy, too direct.) From its very inception, the Islamic Republic defined and strengthened itself by promoting an atmosphere of siege, whether the external enemy was Iraq, the United States, or the West more generally. That the Islamic Republic is an affront to America, and that America presents a military threat and a cultural onslaught, is practically a raison d’être. After 1989, with the end of the Iran-Iraq war and the petering out of the Cold War, sustaining this atmosphere became more difficult. Fortunately for the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, it got a lot easier during the Bush years, with the Axis of Evil and with U.S. troops in two neighboring countries.

The Obama Administration, however, confounded all that. It came in with a rhetoric of engagement and dialogue. And yet it took less than two years for parties on all sides to once again sound the alarm about a coming U.S. war with Iran.

I’m skeptical. Part of that is experience: the alarm has been sounding for decades, and the war never comes. Part is the creeping suspicion that too many people have too much invested in stoking hysteria. The Iranian regime wants its people to believe the Americans will attack, because it believes this will help it hang on to power. The U.S. government wants the Iranians to believe it just might attack, because otherwise the United States has very little leverage in nuclear negotiations. The Israelis want the Iranians to fear an American attack, because they believe this will deter Iranian moves against Israeli interests. The Saudis, too, would like to use a bellicose American ally as leverage against Iran, their regional rival. Then, there’s American domestic politics. The Republicans bluster against Iran to prove that they are tough and that the Democrats are appeasers; the Democrats bluster against Iran to prove that they are no such thing. The neoconservative right encourages the conclusion that the only solution is military; the anti-imperialist left forever argues that the neoconservatives are secretly steering America toward war. It could be my sheer perversity that prevents me from believing what everyone wants me to believe. Or it could be that none of these parties have satisfactorily proved that anyone actually in power believes an attack on Iran would advance American interests more than it would set them back.

Gareth Porter writes: On May 24, when Arbabsiar first met with the DEA informant he thought was part of a Mexican drug cartel, it was not to hire a hit squad to kill the ambassador. Rather, there is reason to believe that the main purpose was to arrange a deal to sell large amounts of opium from Afghanistan.

In the complaint, the closest to a semblance of evidence that Arbabsiar sought help during that first meeting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador is the allegation, attributed to the DEA informant, that Arbabsiar said he was “interested in, among other things, attacking an embassy of Saudi Arabia”.

Among the “other things” was almost certainly a deal on heroin controlled by officers in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Three Bloomberg reporters, citing a “federal law enforcement official”, wrote that Arbabsiar told the DEA informant he represented Iranians who “controlled drug smuggling and could provide tons of opium”.

Because of opium entering Iran from Afghanistan, Iranian authorities hold 85 percent of the world’s opium seizures, according to Iran’s Fars News Agency. Iranian security personnel, including those in the IRGC and its Quds Force, then have the opportunity to sell the opium to traffickers in the Middle East, Europe and now Mexico.

Mexican drug cartels have begun connecting with Middle Eastern drug traffickers, in many cases stationing operatives in Middle East locations to facilitate heroin production and sales, according to a report last January in Borderland Beat.

But the FBI account of the contacts between Arbabsiar and the DEA informant does not reference any discussions of drugs.

Interview with Gareth Porter — Part One:

Interview with Gareth Porter — Part Two:

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