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Some analysts skeptical of alleged Iranian plot

By Reza Sayah, CNN
October 17, 2011 -- Updated 1818 GMT (0218 HKT)
Iranian clerics hold up anti-Saudi placards as they face riot policemen in front of the Saudi embassy in Tehran earlier this year.
Iranian clerics hold up anti-Saudi placards as they face riot policemen in front of the Saudi embassy in Tehran earlier this year.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The alleged plot doesn't fit Iran's style, analysts say
  • Iran stood to lose too much, and had easier targets to pursue, they say
  • Such a desperate measure doesn't fit Iran's stature, former Bush adviser says
  • Too many questions are unanswered for U.S. officials to implicate Iran at highest levels

Washington (CNN) -- Did an elite branch of Iran's military handpick a divorced, 56-year-old Iranian-American used-car salesman from Texas to hire a hitman from a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States by blowing up a bomb in a crowded restaurant in Washington?

U.S. officials say they are certain the bizarre plot against Ambassador Adel Jubeir was real.

But some analysts say they are not. They find it unlikely that the Iranian government, or legitimate factions within, would be involved in such a tangled plot.

Iran slams plot allegations

They cite five reasons why:

1. The alleged plot doesn't fit Iran's style

In the 32-year history of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its Quds Force -- the branch implicated in the alleged plot -- has never been publicly linked to an assassination plot or an attack on U.S. soil. In cases where Quds Force members have been accused of plotting attacks, they had gone to great lengths to cover their tracks and hire proxy groups of the highest caliber, like the Lebanese Hezbollah.

Hiring an Iranian-American used-car salesman who, according to investigators, openly talked about his connections to the Iranian military and brazenly made a $100,000 wire transfer doesn't fit the Quds Force's modus operandi, analysts say.

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"It would be completely uncharacteristic for Iran to be caught red-handed," former CIA operative Bob Baer told CNN.

"There are very few groups operationally better than Iran's Quds Force. They know what they are doing, The only proxies they use are ones they've vetted. They don't let their own citizens get involved."

2. Iran would lose more than it would gain

An assassination plot on U.S. soil would be costly for Iran, analysts say, inviting further sanctions and isolation by the international community, and perhaps military action as well.

"What we've seen unfold makes no sense in terms of Iran's national security strategy," says Hillary Mann Leverett, who was an adviser on Iran in former President George W. Bush's administration.

"There's no benefit; there's no payoff in them pursuing this kind of hit against Adel Jubeir. And it runs contrary to their entire national security strategy."

3. Iran has much easier targets to go after

Iran has potential U.S. and Saudi targets in its own backyard. In fact, Iran's Quds Force is frequently accused of waging proxy wars against U.S. troops in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan and against Saudi interests in places like Bahrain.

The notion that Iran's potential targets in its own backyard were not enough, and that its Quds Force was therefore compelled to carry out a plot on U.S. soil seems far-fetched, analysts say.

4. Iran is gaining in stature and isn't desperate for drastic measures

Analysts say Iran has emerged as an undeniable power broker in the Middle East due in large part to the U.S.-led elimination of two of its key enemies in the last decade -- Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq and the Afghan Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

Tehran's political and economic sway in the region is greater than ever and it has solidified its role as a critical actor involving nearly all the major issues in the region, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the futures of Iraq and Afghanistan, the price of oil and nuclear energy.

Analysts say a seemingly drastic measure like an assassination plot on U.S. soil might perhaps make sense for a country desperate for attention, but not for Iran.

"This would be such a significant departure for the Iranian government to be involved in a plot like this, it really warrants our toughest questions and scrutiny," says Leverett.

5. The alleged plot is full of holes

There seem to be too many unanswered questions at this point to conclude that this plot was conceived by the Iranian government or the leaders of the Quds Force.

Consider the following statements by U.S. officials: When asked if the "upper reaches" of the Iranian government knew about the alleged plot, Attorney General Eric Holder said, "We are not making that charge at this point."

A senior law enforcement official told CNN, "Holder was not alleging that the highest levels officials in Iran were involved."

Another senior U.S. official told CNN, "Given how compartmentalized the Iranians are, it is unclear how wide knowledge of and approval (of the alleged plot) was within the Iranian government."

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