Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 04:47 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 04:47 | SYDNEY

What did the Quds Force agent say to the Mexican drug baron?


Rodger Shanahan


13 October 2011 10:49

If it wasn't so serious, it would almost be funny. This week's revelation that the US has uncovered an Iranian Quds Force plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the US — by using an Iranian-American failed used-car salesman to sub-contract out the task to a Mexican drug cartel — has raised more than a few eyebrows.

There are two takes on this story. The first is that this action merely shows the desperation of the Iranian regime. It fears it is losing influence in the Middle East, and the plot was an attempt to lash out at its regional rival Saudi Arabia and the 'Great Satan' in the US. This is the argument made by Martin Indyk in Foreign Policy.

The second line of argument is that because this doesn't accord with previous Iranian behaviour and there is so much risk for so little return, it points either to a set-up (perhaps by Iranian opposition groups keen to get Saudi Arabia and the US to act more forcefully against Iran) or to a loss of control over the IRGC by the Iranian leadership.

The most intriguing issue is not so much the brazenness of the plot but the absolute amateurishness of it. The only access we have to the official version of events is the indictment that the Washington Post has put online, and it raises more than a few questions.

Granted, the hamfistedness of the electoral rorting in the 2009 presidential election shows that Iranian security forces are capable of amateurishness on a grand scale. But given this was perhaps the boldest offensive action ever carried out by Iranian intelligence, why were the communications conducted using an open mobile direct from the US to 'senior Quds Force members' in downtown Tehran? And why were the down-payments wired directly into the cartel's nominated bank account from overseas?

If it was an officially sanctioned operation, the indictments reveal breathtakingly poor trade-craft for a minor operation, let alone one of this sensitivity. Of course, we don't know what intelligence the US has to support the indictments and we may only find out if it gets selectively leaked to strengthen the public case as doubts are raised about the plot.

It is too early to tell what the truth is, but I have some sympathy for Hillary Clinton's argument that 'You couldn't make this up, could you?'.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Sebastian.YEPES.