Thursday, October 13, 2011

How goofy is the alleged Iran-Zetas plot? And how many people want to use it to promote war?

The National Journal's national-security writer James Kitfield in Iran's Quds Force: The Bomber in the Mirror 10/13/2011 doubles down on his theory how on the alleged Iranian Al-Quds Force recruiting a brainless guy from Texas to contract with the Mexican Zetas drug cartel to kill the Saudi Ambassador to the US in a mass-murder attack in Washington DC is something to worry about because the whole thing sounds dumb as dirt and off-the-tracks implausible.

Before getting into Kitfield's latest, though, I want to mention that Tom Johnson of McClatchy Newspapers did some research with, among other things, those Wikileaks revelations that the Very Serious People tell us weren't all that important except for being horribly damaging to US national security. And he reports his findings in Mexico seen as unlikely launching pad for Iranian plot 10/12/2011.

Juan Cole in Wagging the Dog with Iran's Maxwell Smart Informed Comment 10/13/2011 points out how the story the Justice Department tells in its indictment has quickly come to look like a "steaming crock". Though, as he points out in the same sentence, this highly unlikely scenario "is now being used to make policy at the highest levels."

I wondering which it is that I'm finding harder to imagine: the scenario for Iranian covert ops laid out in the Manssor Arbabsiar indictment, or the fact that the officials of the Obama Administration are treating that aspect of it as though they think it's really a good basis for policy to assume it's correct. It looks to me like we may be back in the plywood drones of death territory we were in with Iraq in 2002-3.

Which brings me to James Kitfield's latest plea for how we should be very, very afraid because of the seemingly bumbling scenario of the indictment, which Cole calls "falling down funny" on its face. You see, according to Kitfield, those strange Oriental Persians just don't think like us civilized Western white folks. Okay, he gives a highbrow version. But that's the core of his reasoning on this:

The alleged operation, which seems uncharacteristically sloppy by Quds Force standards, could still prove the work of a low-level rogue element. But the tendency to project Western risk assessment and cost-benefit analyses onto Middle East autocrats—especially those that embrace revolutionary ideology—has profound drawbacks. Intelligence analysts call it “mirror imaging,” and it helps explain why it never occurred to many analysts that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was simply bluffing about weapons of mass destruction in order to save face with regional adversaries.

“This alleged Iranian plot is certainly in-your-face and brazen, but I would caution against making the classic analytic mistake of 'mirror imaging' this by assuming Iran’s Revolutionary Guard thinks like we do,” said Philip Mudd, a former senior counterterrorism expert with the CIA and on the National Security Council. The Quds Force has a history of very aggressively testing Western red lines, he notes, with plots that include the assassinations of high-profile Iranian dissidents in Europe in the 1990s; a bombing of an Israeli community center in Argentina in 1994 that killed 85 people; the 1996 truck bombing of the U.S. Air Force’s Khobar Towers housing complex in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 service members; the kidnapping spree in Lebanon in the mid-1980s that led to the death-in-captivity of a CIA station chief and the Iran-contra arms-for-hostage scandal; and the truck bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983 that killed 241 Marines. More recently, the Quds Force has been supplying weapons to extremists targeting American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, funneling weaponry and support to the terrorist groups Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, bolstering Syrian forces in their bloody crackdown against protesters, and inciting Shiite protesters in U.S. ally Bahrain. "All of that provocation seems crazy from an American perspective," said Mudd. "But if you’re a nervous Iranian leadership trying to reignite a revolutionary ideology, I’m not sure you see much of a downside to these actions."
It's worth repeating: the evidence for Iranian involvement in the bombing of the AMEA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires in 1994 is very thin. That case has never been conclusively solved. But the evidence seems to point more strongly to Argentine far-right paramilitaries than to an Iran-Hizbollah operation.

Kitfield quotes the hawkish Martin Indyk, now of Brookings and formerly with AIPAC and the Washington Institute of Near East Policy (WINEP) - all three institutions that actively promoted the Iraq War - promoting the notion that you just can predict what those scary Orientals might do: "So Iran is quite capable of doing something that we regard as unbelievably brazen, and our assessment of whether an Iranian threat is credible or not shouldn't be based on what seems rational to us. They operate according to different calculations."

Part of this we-should-be-scared-because-the-plot-sounds-so-implausible line of argumentation is that the Iranian leadership was somehow so discombobulated by the Green Movement protest of 2009 in Iran and now the Arab Spring that they are more likely to do stupid and incompetent things. Kitfield quotes one of those hawkish exiles who inevitably pop up when when US hawks want to bomb some country and kill a lot of its people. in this case it's FOX News Commentator Alireza Jafarzadeh:

If this alleged plot to launch terror attacks on U.S. soil turns out to be true, it may have been an attempt by a desperate and increasingly paranoid regime to reclaim the initiative and elevate the stature of a severely discredited leadership.
Once more with Juan Cole on how far-fetched the alleged plot really sounds:

That a monumental screw-up like Arbabsiar could have thought he was a government secret agent is perfectly plausible. I’m sure he thought all kinds of things. But that he was actually one is simply not believable.

OK, Qasim Soleimani, the head of the Qods Brigade special operation forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, may not be a nice man. But he is such a competent man that US officials in Iraq widely believed that he repeatedly outmaneuvered and defeated them there.

The allegation that Soleimani was running a hard-drinking incompetent with no memory and no sense of organization like Arbabsiar on the most delicate and dangerous terrorist mission ever attempted by the Islamic Republic of Iran is falling down funny.

Moreover, there is every reason to think, as Jeffrey Toobin suggests is a possibility, that Arbab was entrapped into this plan by a criminal drug runner in the pay of the US government, who suggested most of the key details to Arbabsiar in the first place. If the latter was as mentally disturbed as the WaPo report makes him sound, he may have been particularly suggestible and therefore an excellent subject for entrapment.

There is no connection to Iran here. Arbabsiar had $100,000 wired from a third country to what he thought was the Mexican drug gangster’s account. The money did not come directly from Iran. Even if it originated there, there is no reason to think it was government funds. Arbabsiar was himself worth $2 million in Iran; for all we know, as he got lost in his fantasy land, he began being willing to spend his Kermanshah inheritance on the crazy scheme.
The Kermanshah reference is to the city in Iran where the accused plotter had a substantial inheritance in property. See Peter Finn and and Julie Tate, Mansour Arbabsiar recalled as upbeat about finances during summer encounter Washington Post 10/12/2011.

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