WASHINGTON (6:48 a.m.) - On Sept. 29, 2011, Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen living in Texas and holding both Iranian and U.S. passports, was arrested at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and charged with plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. in Washington.
What escaped the attention of many was another alleged high-profile component to the plot, according to an Israeli envoy.
"They also planned to blow up the Israeli Embassy, my embassy in this town," Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren confirmed in an exclusive interview with WTOP. Oren says there additionally was a plan "to blow up a restaurant not far from where we're being interviewed in Washington." (Oren was interviewed at WTOP in NW D.C.)
Buried in an amended complaint, an FBI special agent charges that Arbabsiar "discussed the possibility of attacks on a number of targets. These targets included government facilities associated with Saudi Arabia and with 'another' country and these targets were located within the United States."
Oren says Israel was that "other" country.
According to documents from the Department of Justice, Arbabsiar allegedly was acting as an agent of the Iranian government. The official indictment says he was working with Gholam Shakuri, an Iran-based member of Iran's Qods Force, which is a special operations unit of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Shakuri is still at large.
For decades, according to U.S. intelligence sources, Israel and Iran have traded secret attacks that have killed or injured hundreds of people. Rarely has either claimed responsibility. Since the early 1980s, clandestine tit-for-tat kidnappings, mysterious assassinations and attacks, steadily inflamed by political rhetoric, have pushed the relationship between the two to the point where open warfare seems very likely.
On Tuesday, Israel sent a strong ultimatum to Iran's Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei warning him to shut down the country's nuclear weapons program or face the possibility of widespread destruction that might affect him personally. Oren says he can "shut it down and remain in power."
Until this open war - which the Israeli government suggests could begin in a matter of months - actually starts, the "shadow war" between the two has advanced to the point where it's Israel's turn again.
After the thunderous blast that rocked the Black Sea city of Burgas in Bulgaria on July 18, killing five Israelis and a Bulgarian bus driver and wounding more than 30 people, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed revenge for a string of attacks in India, Thailand, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kenya and Cyprus.
There is very little doubt in the U.S. intelligence community that if Israel does attack Iran, there will be strong consequences, not the least of which is Iran's unorthodox style of retaliation.
Fred Burton, who retired as deputy director of the State Department's Rewards for Justice Program, says Iran uses its global network of diplomatic facilities to plan and plot attacks.
"It's been my experience that these locations would be a base of operations to where they could utilize their official network of Iranian diplomatic passports and the diplomatic pouch to circumvent security airports through the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations," Burton says.
The Geneva Convention, as it is commonly called, defines the "diplomatic pouch" as a container with certain legal protections used for carrying official correspondence or other items between a diplomatic mission and its home government or other official organizations. The physical concept of a "diplomatic bag" is flexible and therefore can be anything including an envelope, parcel, large suitcase or shipping container.
The biggest concern for Burton, now vice president of intelligence at Stratfor, and others is that as long as it is externally marked to show its status, the "bag" has diplomatic immunity from search or seizure.
Burton says Iran and other rogue governments have used it to "secrete weapons, identity documents and even explosives."
The U.S. government is well aware of Iran's propensity for and capability of smuggling weapons.
A 2009 U.S. military report now being reviewed indicates Iran is very savvy at using weapon smuggling networks and proxy organizations like Hezbollah to achieve foreign policy goals. The report says Iran utilizes such tactics to shape the manner in which foreign countries deal with Iran. The Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization document says an attack on Iran will likely be matched with an increase in the rate and quantity of weapons smuggling.
Burton suggests that given Iran's alleged widespread use of diplomatic facilities and pouches for illicit purposes, there is no telling what they'll be sending where or for what purpose if the country launches an attack.
(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)