In today’s Wall Street Journal, Steve Hayes notes what will be missing in this weekend’s attempted negotiations with Iran: a serious discussion of Iran’s broad sponsorship of terrorism, particularly against American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, the Obama administration would be wise to remember an example of Iran’s brazen terrorist plotting from the not-so-distant past. The foiled plot to assassinate a Saudi ambassador on American soil says much about how the Iranian regime sees the U.S. government and its relations with Iran’s neighbors.
The Obama administration revealed the details of the plot in October 2011. At the time, the U.S. Treasury Department designated several Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force (IRGC-QF) officials who were named as participants in the plot.
The IRGC controls Iran’s nuclear program, which is what this weekend’s sit down is all about. But the IRGC also has been the party responsible for most of the Iranian-backed terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, which this weekend’s talks are not about.
One of the IRGC-QF officials designated in October 2011 is Abdul Reza Shahlai. According to Treasury, Shahlai “coordinated the plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States Adel Al-Jubeir, while he was in the United States and to carry out follow-on attacks against other countries’ interests inside the United States and in another country.” Several million dollars were allocated for these efforts.
Shahlai was no stranger to the U.S. government at the time. He had been previously designated by the Treasury Department in September 2008. Treasury then noted that he was a “deputy commander” in the IRGC-QF and planned “Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) Special Groups attacks against Coalition Forces in Iraq.”
One of the attacks Shahlai “planned” was a January 20, 2007 raid in Karbala, Iraq—a daring and sophisticated operation in which Iranian-trained terrorists posed as American soldiers during an assault on the Provincial Joint Coordination Center. The assault team was reportedly trained in a mock-up of the center that was built in Iran. The terrorists killed five Americans and wounded three more during their raid.
In 2009, the Obama administration released two of the Iranian-backed terrorists involved in the Karbala operation. The brothers, Qais and Layith Khazali, were freed even though they were directly implicated in the attack. The release of the Khazalis was said to be part of a reconciliation effort inside Iraq, but their release was almost certainly part of a negotiated hostage exchange. A British hostage was released by one of Iran’s terror proxies on December 30, 2009—the same day Qais Khazali was freed. (See here and here for more on this story.)
Less than two years after the Obama administration approved the release of Qais Khazali from custody in Iraq, it revealed that Khazali’s handler, Abdul Reza Shahlai, had “coordinated” a terrorist plot on American soil. Shahlai’s cousin was, in fact, the point man for the planned assassination, which involved placing a bomb at a popular Washington, D.C. restaurant.
This is how the IRGC does diplomacy.
One of the Obama administration’s key demands this weekend is that the Iranians “dismantle” the formerly secret Fordow uranium enrichment facility near Qom. As the New York Times has previously reported, the Qom facility “is built into a mountain on [an IRGC] base.”
Shortly after Layith Khazali was released in June 2009, according to the Guardian (UK), he “immediately travelled to the Iranian city of Qom, where he was hosted by clergy.” Several days after Qais Khazali was released months later he, too, returned to Iran for a hero’s welcome—in Qom.
This weekend the Obama administration will pretend it can separate the IRGC-controlled nuclear program from IRGC-backed terrorism, as if one has nothing to do with the other. But the same organization that holds the keys to Iran’s nuclear program sponsors terrorism around the globe.
Nothing about the IRGC suggests it is truly willing to give up its crown jewel—a nuclear weapons program it has spent considerable resources to develop. Nor will the IRGC stop sponsoring terrorism any time soon.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.