By Michael Rubin
Editor's note: Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School.
Iranian outbursts towards the United States and Israel are nothing new, but the Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington surprised many people. Iran's animosity toward Saudi Arabia, however, should have surprised no one.
Perhaps the only thing longer than Iran's animosity toward the United States is its hatred of Saudi Arabia. The two are divided not only by the Persian Gulf, but also by a Shiite-Sunni sectarian split and a Persian-Arab divide that goes back centuries.
Before Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran and Saudi Arabia had a love-hate relationship. On one hand, religious and ethnic differences plagued the two regional powers. On the other hand, both were traditional monarchies who found themselves on the same side of the Cold War, opposing communism and the radicals who threatened the status quo.
The fall of Iran's shah and his replacement by a radical Shiite regime, however, transformed the love-hate relationship into a hate-hate relationship.
With reporting from Jamie Crawford, Charley Keyes, Jill Dougherty, Elise Labott and Gloria Borger
At the center of the alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States is the alleged involvement of the Quds Force, the elite special operations unit of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The most militant wing the corps, Quds Force has reportedly carried out covert operations in countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Iraq.
Manssor Arbabsiar, a naturalized U.S. citizen, is accused of working with members of an arm of the IRGC in devising a murder-for-hire plot, according to the complaint filed Tuesday in the Southern District of New York and announced by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Arbabsiar is accused of "orchestrating the $1.5 million plot with Gholam Shakuri, an Iranian-based member of the (Quds) Force, and other Iranian co-conspirators," according to the complaint.
A reading of the complaint, along with public comments by officials, suggested that the U.S. government came to the conclusion that Quds Force was linked to the plot based on claims the defendant made to an informant. But the question left unanswered is whether the alleged conspirators were free-lancing or got a nod of approval from senior officials in the regime.
The administration does not have "specific information" tying Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khameini, to the plot, but specific information does link senior Quds Force officials, a senior administration official familiar with the case told CNN's Gloria Borger. When pressed, senior administration officials would not link the plot to the highest levels of the Iranian government, Chief White House Correspondent Jessica Yellin said Thursday.
A senior U.S. official told CNN's Elise Labott that given how compartmentalized Iran's leadership is, it was also unclear the extent to which the plot was known - or approved of - within the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad.
"It could be someone in the IRGC who was freelancing; it could be one stovepipe of the Quds force that felt they had the resources and the means to conduct something," the senior U.S. official said. "It's still unclear."
But the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who was briefed about the plot this summer, went further in accusing the Iranians of being behind the plot. FULL POST
By CNN Pentagon Correspondent Chris Lawrence
A senior defense official says there has been no change to U.S. military posture in reaction to the terror plot allegedly backed by Iran. The official says American Navy ships in the region have not been re-positioned, and at this point there are no plans to do so.
“The act is already done. One of the people involved is still at large, but the other principal is in custody. So what does changing military posture do?, the official says.
The official says while the Pentagon continues to concentrate on keeping an eye on the Quds Force and Iran’s actions in the region, especially Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf, this incident is “much more of a law-enforcement matter.”
The official was not surprised at the level of cooperation apparently given by the Mexican government to foil the terror plot. “We’ve got a very good working relationship with the Mexican military in a number of ways, especially counter-narcotics. The US Navy and Marine Corps are very involved with their Mexican counterparts, and work together in several ways, including training.”
The Treasury Department sanctioned five people for their alleged involvement in the plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States. Here is the announcement -
The U.S. Department of the Treasury today announced the designation of five individuals, including four senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) officers connected to a plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States Adel Al-Jubeir, while he was in the United States and to carry out follow-on attacks against other countries’ interests inside the United States and in another country. As part of today’s action, Treasury also designated the individual responsible for arranging the assassination plot on behalf of the IRGC-QF.
Designated today pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13224 for acting for or on behalf of the IRGC-QF were: Manssor Arbabsiar, a naturalized U.S. citizen holding both Iranian and U.S. passports who acted on behalf of the IRGC-QF to pursue the failed plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador; IRGC-QF commander Qasem Soleimani; Hamed Abdollahi, a senior IRGC-QF official who coordinated aspects of the plot and oversaw the other Qods Force officials directly responsible for coordinating and planning this operation; Abdul Reza Shahlai, an IRGC-QF official who coordinated this operation; and Ali Gholam Shakuri, an IRGC-QF official and deputy to Shahlai, who met with Arbabsiar on several occasions to discuss the assassination and other planned attacks.
By CNN State Department Correspondent Jill Dougherty
The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia said Wednesday that it has received information that a terrorist group may be planning to abduct Westerners in Riyadh.
The embassy passed along the notice in an emergency message for U.S. citizens.
"The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh reminds all U.S. citizens to exercise prudence and enhanced security awareness at all times," it said.
"We deemed the information to be credible, or would not have issued the emergency message," Deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.
He would not comment on specific intelligence, but said there was no reason for U.S. citizens to leave Saudi Arabia as a result of the message.
Editor's note: Jon B. Alterman is director and senior fellow of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Prior to joining CSIS, he served as a member of the Policy Planning Staff at the U.S. Department of State and as a special assistant to the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. This article was originally published in the CSIS publication "Middle East Notes and Comment" and is republished with permission.
From Jon B. Alterman, CSIS
Saudi Arabia has a problem. Its decades-long alliances with Iraq and Egypt have been sundered, and its faith in U.S. leadership is at its lowest point in memory. Its regional threats have grown, not only from Iranians directly across the Gulf, but from the actions of Iranian proxies in Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East that endanger Saudi allies.
There is no single answer to Saudi Arabia’s challenges, but the solution set increasingly includes building greater cooperation with Turkey.
Turkey is an unlikely Saudi ally. A historically secular republic would seem anathema to an avowedly religious monarchy, and Saudis often point with pride to the fact that they never fell under the corrupting thumb of the Ottoman Empire that left its imprint on most of the Middle East. The Turkish economy is a bottom-up industrial juggernaut; the Saudi economy trickles down oil wealth to its citizens. Turkey abandoned the fez in the 1920s as part of an aggressive effort to modernize; Saudi Arabia has continued to insist on traditional dress for nationals, albeit with a fondness for fashioning them out of fine European cloths.
Perhaps most problematic is the fact that Turkey has adopted a policy of “zero problems with neighbors” when those neighbors are precisely the countries with which Saudi Arabia has its deepest problems. Iran is chief among them, but so are Syria and Iraq, where Saudis believe events have spun decidedly against their interests. FULL POST
By Sr. State Department Producer Elise Labott
Concerned the storming of the Israeli embassy in Cairo by protestors could escalate tensions in the Middle East, the United States has engaged in a flurry of diplomatic activity.
In addition to President Barack Obama's call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta speaking to Egyptian Field Marshall Mohamed Tantawi, State Department Spokesman Victoria Nuland said that Secretary Clinton spoke twice to Egyptian Foreign Minister Amir over the weekend to express those concerns.
"Her message was we need to get the situation under control; you have obligations under the Vienna Convention; please do what you can to protect Israeli citizens, and this is dangerous not only in your relationship with Israel but in terms of implications for the region as a whole," Nuland said.
The US is concerned that the tensions between Israel and Egypt could flame anti-Israeli sentiment in the region in advance of the opening of the UN General Assembly next week, where the Palestinians are expected to launch a controversial bid for statehood.
In addition, Assistant Secretary Feltman also reached out to a "broad cross-section" of officials in the region to urge calm and stress the importance of peace between Egypt and Israel "to the region as a whole as we move into a very complicated period heading towards the meetings in New York next week," Nuland said.
A senior State Department official said that Feltman spoke with the Secretary General of the GCC, Egyptian presidential candidate Amr Moussa, Qatari Pm Hamad bin Lassim; Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, Saudi Ambassador to US Adel al-Jubair and officials in Kuwait and Egyptian foreign ministries.
– Follow Elise on Twitter: @EliseLabottCNN