Experts: Alleged Iranian terror plot shows no fear of U.S.

By Oren Dorell, USA TODAY
Updated 11m ago

An alleged Iranian plot to kill a Saudi ambassador in Washington shows that the ruling mullahs have no fear of the United States and that U.S. policy toward the Islamic republic must be more assertive, according to some Iran experts.

If the Justice Department account is accurate, the plot was launched with the approval of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and means Iran's leaders "did not fear a muscular American response," said Reuel Marc Gerecht of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a former CIA officer.

STORY: U.S. says terrorist plot is tied to Iran

"They don't believe we'd militarily respond and don't fear any sanctions we might throw at them," Gerecht said.

The Iranian goal, he said, is to bleed both the USA and Saudi Arabia "on their home turf, showing quite clearly, 'You are not safe at home.'"

Adel Al-Jubeir, Saudi Ambassador to the U.S.

2004 USA TODAY photoA federal indictment released Tuesday accuses a naturalized U.S. citizen, Iranian-born Manssor Arbabsiar, 56, of trying to contract with a Mexican cartel to kill Saudi Ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir on behalf of Iranian government agents. The indictment says the plotter discussed a bomb attack that could have killed scores of people in a Washington, D.C., restaurant frequented by Al-Jubeir.

"The most brazen part of the plot is that they would try to kill him in Washington," said John Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush.

Vali Nasr, an Iran expert at Tufts University in Massachusetts who served as an adviser to the State Department from 2009 to 2011, said President Obama needs to rethink his stance toward Iran. U.S. policy has been to contain Iran with sanctions and push its leaders to abandon their nuclear ambitions, but now, "all of sudden, the Iranians take a very aggressive act that takes us by surprise," Nasr said.

The surprise is that the new threat is unrelated to the nuclear issue, "where most of our punitive efforts have been focused," but "something completely different, which forces us to come up with a bunch of policies for how to respond," Nasr said.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are "the two most religiously aggressive states in the Middle East" and have engaged in a sometimes-bloody rivalry to advance each country's version of political Islam, Gerecht said.

Iran, led by Shiite clerics, sought to export its Islamic revolution to the Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis, who follow a form of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism, responded by exporting Wahhabist clerics to all corners of the Muslim world and funding Sunni movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

They fought a proxy war in Iraq, where Saudi money supported a Sunni insurgency against a Shiite majority supported by Iran, Nasr said. In Lebanon, the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group is accused of assassinating the Saudi-backed prime minister.

The rivalry has intensified with the birth of the Arab Spring protest movement. Iran backed a Shiite rebellion in Bahrain, which the Saudis quashed with armed forces. The Saudis support a rebellion in Syria, an Iranian ally that has killed hundreds of street protesters.

Unless the U.S. responds forcefully, "we are setting the stage for further Iranian belligerence, because they will see that they can plan an operation … get caught, and the Americans do nothing," Gerecht said. ... 50746740/1