Editor's Note: Ali Alfoneh is a Resident Fellow at American Enterprise Institute.
By Ali Alfoneh - Special to CNN
In the hours following the United States Department of Justice press release on the foiled terror plot “directed by elements of the Iranian government to murder the Saudi Ambassador to the United States,” the Islamic Republic officials have energetically dismissed the allegations against Iran.
Hassan Qashqavi, deputy foreign minister, stressed: “Despite some conflicting points of view, relations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and [Saudi] Arabia are based on mutual respect between Muslims and such deeds [the allegations against Iran], which are designed to instigate conflict in the region, will not have the slightest impact.” Ramin Mehmanparast, Foreign Ministry spokesman, called the allegations “a ridiculous theater” directed by “the American-Zionist axis;” while Ala al-Din Boroujerdi, parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy chairman, bizarrely said the United States allegations serve the purpose of “diverting public attention from the revolt against Wall Street.”
Remarkably, there is still no reaction from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, or for that matter the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) whose Qods Force – the IRGC’s foreign operations arm – United States officials accuse of masterminding the terror plot. However, the IRGC commanders may have good reason for not reacting. After all, they have already declared their intentions against Saudi Arabia and the United States.
On April 17, 2011, Hossein Allah-Karam, IRGC Qods Force veteran from the war in Bosnia and current vigilante leader in Iran, threatened Saudi Arabia with “martyrdom operations” - suicide terror in official Islamic Republic parlance - should Saudi Arabia not remove its military forces from Bahrain. On April 18, 2011, Sobh-e Sadeq, the official mouthpiece of the IRGC, condemning Saudi Arabia’s deployment of troops to Bahrain, warned: “They have chosen the dangerous path of suppression and they must certainly pay a very high price for it…”
On April 19, 2011, Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, former Revolutionary Guards commander and current military adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, warned Saudi Arabia against “foreign intervention” in Saudi Arabia’s internal affairs as retaliation against Saudi intervention in internal affairs of Bahrain. In the same expansionist spirit, Major General Qassem Suleimani, IRGC Qods Force commander, on May 22, 2011 said: “Today, Iran’s victory or defeat is no longer decided in Mehran or Khorramshahr. Our boundaries have expanded and we must witness victory in Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria.”
Also IRGC threats against the United States have become more direct in the rhetoric of the IRGC commanders. On September 10, 2010 Mohammad-Reza Naqdi, Basij Commander, said “not all [military] interventions should be Western; we are also prepared to intervene in the internal affairs of these countries when needed.” With such statements in the past months, the IRGC hardly needs to make further statements.
Khamenei’s silence on the other hand is more remarkable. Authorizing an assassination plot against a Saudi ambassador - and the ambassador to the United States at that - hardly fits Khamenei’s cautious style. Khamenei may not even have been aware of the IRGC terror plot, and the IRGC’s plan may have been a rogue act testing the patience of the United States and Saudi Arabia, but also aiming at entangling Iran in yet another diplomatic crisis. In the shadow of the crisis and a permanent state of emergency, the IRGC could seize the total power in Iran, freeing itself from what may remain of civilian control of the armed forces.
Regardless if it is Khamenei or the IRGC who is responsible for the terror plot, the Islamic Republic should be held responsible and should also pay a price for its adventurist policies. Otherwise a bolder and more assertive leadership in Tehran will test Washington’s redlines.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Ali Alfoneh.