The PJ Tatler

Escalation: Iranian Who Planned Deadly Attack on US Soldiers Was Also Behind the Assassination Plot

The Long War Journal takes a look at some recent attacks with Iranian fingerprints, and finds connections to a couple of terrorists the Obama administration released in exchange for some hostages.

The US Treasury Department has designated five individuals involved in an alleged plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, including Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF). Soleimani “oversees the IRGC-QF officers who were involved in this plot,” according to Treasury.

Another of the five is Abdul Reza Shahlai, an IRGC-QF officer who planned the Jan. 20, 2007 attack on US soldiers stationed in Karbala, Iraq. That attack left five US soldiers dead and wounded three others.

Shahlai, according to the Treasury Department, “coordinated the 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.”

Shahlai was previously designated by the Treasury Department in Sept. 2008. At the time, Treasury noted that he was a “deputy commander” in the IRGC-QF and planned “Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) Special Groups attacks against Coalition Forces in Iraq.” One of the attacks he “planned” was the 2007 raid in Karbala, a daring and sophisticated operation in which Iranian-trained terrorists posed as American soldiers during an assault on the Provincial Joint Coordination Center. The assault team was reportedly trained in a mock-up of the center that was built in Iran.

In 2009, the Obama administration released two of the Iranian-backed terrorists involved in the Karbala operation. The brothers, Qais and Layith Khazali, were freed even though they were directly implicated in the attack. The release of the Khazalis was said to be part of a reconciliation effort inside Iraq.

However, US military officials told The Long War Journal that the Khazalis’ release was really part of a negotiation to free British hostages who had been kidnapped by Iranian proxies. Statements made by an Iraqi spokesman and other press reporting confirmed these suspicions.

The post goes on to note that despite objections raised by two Republican senators, the apparent exchange of terrorists for hostages did happen and a British hostage was freed as Iran won the release of two terrorists who had taken part in the murder of five US soldiers. Let that sink in for a minute.

It’s tempting to overthink the Iranian/Zeta/used car salesman plot, as it seems to out of character for the normally ruthless and efficient terrorist regime. The operative seems out of character, but as the cousin of Shahlai his involvement makes a bit more sense. The use of the drug cartel doesn’t seem to make sense, but then again Hizballah has become increasingly involved in the drug and dirty money trade itself over the past few years. Carrying out attacks against targets far from the Middle East isn’t entirely out of the Iranian character, but much of the rest of this plot seems to be. But, if the regime felt emboldened by a couple of things and saw a strategic angle to play, the plot could make more sense.

One, the Iranians could have been emboldened by the Obama administration’s willingness to trade for terrorists known to have murdered US soldiers. And two, it could have been emboldened by the possibility of creating more instability on the US-Mexico border.

Suppose that the plot had succeeded. There was never any chance of that, of course, because Mannsor Arbabsiar was never in contact with actual Zeta operatives. But he and his Tehran contacts thought he was and they apparently wanted him to proceed. Now suppose that their plot succeeds, the Saudi ambassador is killed on US soil and the Zetas are implicated. Fast and Furious, the administration’s gun running scandal, has been heating up, and Obama has already unilaterally relaxed border security with his policy change on deportations. What impact would this kind of attack, with drug cartel connections across the border, have on US politics?

That impact would be rather severe, I would think. The US would be humiliated that a drug cartel had successfully carried out an assassination of a US allied ambassador in our capital. The chain of events that followed might end up with US troops sent south to hunt down the Zetas, with or without Mexican government cooperation. Such an operation would certainly be expensive and probably would not finish quickly. Obama would certainly have had a lot to answer for; his insult comic routine on the Texas border a few months back would play like a grim reminder of just how irresponsibly he has handled the border. There might have been calls to impeach him.

Not that the Iranians would have thought this far ahead, but what would have happened if Fast and Furious weapons turned up in the fight against US troops hunting the Zetas?

As it stands, the plot did not happen but the terrorists-for-hostages swap apparently did. Congress should look into that, and how those negotiations may have played into the Iranian thinking that led to the bizarre Zeta plot.