The PJ Tatler

Does Iran's Qods Force Smuggle Drugs?

Manssor Arabsiar, the Iranian accused of attempting to orchestrate an assassination of the Saudi ambassador to the US, says they do.

The criminal complaint against Manssor Arbabsiar, released by Justice Department officials this week, makes no mention of alleged drug smuggling by the Iranian Qods Force, an elite covert arm of the Iranian military whose top officials allegedly coordinated and funded the plot to assassinate Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir, according to U.S. officials.

But two U.S. law enforcement sources told NBC News that Arbabsiar, in recorded conversations with an undercover drug informant, said in coded language that the same individuals who were orchestrating the bombing plot against the ambassador were involved in drug dealing. He told the informant that his Iranian handlers could arrange to provide Los Zetas, a Mexican drug cartel, with “multi-ton” shipments of opium, the sources said.

The major drug deal never materialized, however, and the allegations about Qods Force drug smuggling were not pursued because U.S. officials wanted to focus on the attempt to assassinate al-Jubeir on U.S. soil, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The officials said Drug Enforcement Administration director Michele Leonhart was even asked not to appear at the press conference announcing the assassination plot charges — a noticeable absence given that one of her agency’s informants uncovered the alleged plot.

It has long been known that Hizballah engages in a pair of related network crimes — the drug trade and money laundering — to fund part of their terrorist operations. Hizballah is a client of Iran, and it stands to reason that it and its masters may share tactics. Qods Force participation in the drug trade has been suspected but never proven. This assassination plot may help get to the bottom of that question. It may also help shed some light on the Qods Force’s growing relationship with Venezuela.

Speaking of which, there is a known drug kingpin with links to the Middle East and the Venezuelan government, currently sitting in a Venezuelan jail and apparently not saying very much about what he knows. Not that we should ever expect to hear from him again, given who has control of him now. The Obama administration’s choice to allow Colombia to extradite Walid Makled to Venezuela was a very serious mistake. Colombia is said to have preferred to have sent him to the US, where he is under indictment, but the Obama administration was unresponsive, so off to Venezuela he went. I doubt Arabsiar knows as much as Makled does, but you never know — Arabsiar’s  cousin is Abdul Reza Shahlai, a high-ranking Qods Force officer who planned a lethal attack on US troops in Afghanistan. Shahlai is believed to be the mastermind of the attack on the Saudi ambassador, involving the Mexican Zeta drug gang.

If the Qods Force is also a drug gang, this use of the Zetas makes a bit more sense.