When the news first broke on Tuesday that the U.S. had foiled a Hollywood-esque plot by Iranian officials to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S. and bomb Saudi and Israeli embassies, coverage tended to focus on the stunning allegations themselves and on speculation about how the U.S. would respond. But, as we noted yesterday, others began raising questions about the official U.S. version of the scheme. Why, analysts asked, would Iran's elite Quds Force uncharacteristically carry out a clumsy, risky, and brazen attack on U.S. soil--one that bizarrely involved an Iranian-American used-car salesman hiring a hitman from a Mexican drug cartel? The chorus of media skepticism has only increased today, and it appears to be led by The New York Times, which has published four articles in the last two days surfacing concerns about the alleged plot.
In an article today entitled, "U.S. Challenged to Explain Accusations of Iran Plot in the Face of Skepticism," The Times explains that American officials claim bank transfers and intercepted phone calls suggest the head of the Quds Force, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, was directly involved in the operation, and that Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was aware of the plan. The odd plot, these officials add, may indicate that Iranian foreign policy toward Saudi Arabia and the U.S. is growing more bellicose or that Iran was trying to retaliate for the killing of several Iranian nuclear scientists during the past two years--assassinations that many believe were carried out by Israel with tacit American approval. In a separate piece on Thursday, The Times cites American experts who argue that senior Iranian officials could not have been behind the plot as the U.S. suggests, and that the plan was likely the work of rogue elements. One Iranian-American scholar even suggests that an entity trying to foment conflict between the U.S., Iran and Saudi Arabia may have set the plot in motion.
The Times isn't the only news outlet surfacing these issues today. The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post both have stories on how U.S. investigators themselves initially doubted the plot, though both these articles focus more on official explanations than expert skepticism (The Post also has a piece on doubts harbored by ordinary Iranians). Analysts tell CNN that the plot doesn't make sense because Iran stood to lose too much and had easier targets to pursue, and that U.S. officials haven't sufficiently answered lingering questions. Another CNN article by the director of the Iran Program at The Century Foundation is headlined, "Iran's Leaders Would Not Have Approved Alleged Plot." In the end, The Huffington Post's write-up may be the most colorful:
One national security analyst called it "amateur hour" and compared it to the work of the "Keystone Kops." Another described it as a "fusion-cuisine salad bar of U.S. security anxieties." A third said it seemed "more Johnny English than Jason Bourne." ...
"We spent the day here trying to figure this one out, and it just doesn't make any sense, " said Ken Gude, the managing director for National Security at the Center for American Progress.
"It doesn't mean it isn't true," he added. "Strange things do happen."