What lies beneath all of these accusations that are flying between Iran and the U.S. may actually be more important that what appears on the surface, but first to the news updates:
Alleged Iran Plot "Dangerous Escalations"
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday that Iran's alleged ties to a plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington marked a "dangerous escalation" of Tehran's sponsorship of terrorism.
Clinton said Iran's alleged part in the conspiracy, which was revealed by U.S. law enforcement officials on Tuesday, showed Tehran was willing to flout established international conventions on protecting diplomats that it itself had signed.
Saudi Arabia said on Wednesday Iran would "pay the price" for the alleged plot, while Tehran called the accusation a fabrication designed to sow discord in the region already on edge over Iran's nuclear ambitions.
U.S. Challenged to Explain Accusations of Iran Plot in the Face of Skepticism
The Obama administration on Wednesday sought to reconcile what it said was solid evidence of an Iranian plot to murder Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States with a wave of skepticism from some foreign leaders and outside experts.
Senior American officials themselves were struggling to explain why the Quds Force, an elite international operations unit within Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, would orchestrate such a risky attack in so amateurish a manner.
One has to admit the timing is quite interesting with U.S. Attorney General being issued a Subpoena today in the "Fast and Furious" investigation (see here), which admittedly may be a coincidence.
The White House spokesman, Jay Carney, would not go further than to say the plot “clearly involved senior levels of the Quds Force.” But other American officials, armed with evidence such as bank transfers and intercepted telephone calls and with knowledge of how the covert unit operated in the past, said they believed that Iran’s senior leaders were likely complicit in the plot.
That is quite an accusation, and if true could be considered as an act of war.
“It would be our assessment that this kind of operation would have been discussed at the highest levels of the regime,” said a senior American official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the government’s analysis.
Then we see this stunning accusation:
American officials offered no specific evidence linking the plot to Iran’s most senior leaders. But they said it was inconceivable in Iran’s hierarchy that the leader of the shadowy Quds Force, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, was not directly involved, and that the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was not aware of such a plan.
The officials said the plot might indicate a shift to a more combative Iranian foreign policy toward Saudi Arabia and the United States. The United States has brought international pressure on Iran’s nuclear program, and Iran and Saudi Arabia have long waged proxy battles for influence in the Muslim world.
One provocative theory that American officials are considering is that the assassination was intended as retaliation for the killing of several Iranian nuclear scientists during the past two years. Those deaths are widely believed to have been the work of Israel, with tacit American approval, to slow Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon.
Then we get to the bottom line in this interesting report:
If the Iranian leadership authorized such a plot, he said, that would mark “a major escalation against the United States, of the kind that hasn’t happened since the Iranian Revolution.” It would be “almost an act of war,” and Washington “must react in a different way than it has so far.”
Next we turn to Israel:
Israel taking Iranian assassination plot seriously
Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren said on Wednesday that Israel is taking the thwarted plot against the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. and the possibility that the Israeli Embassy was a target seriously, saying it was "definitely an escalation" in an interview with MSNBC.
The Israeli ambassador then went on to recount how Iran was responsible for the bombing of the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, killing over a hundred people.
" Iranian terrorist organizations have killed hundreds of American servicemen, whether in Saudi Arabia, in Iraq, in Lebanon back then - we always have to be vigilant about the Iranian government," Oren reportedly warned.
He said this was "definitely an escalation", adding that "it's not out of character for the Iranian regime; this is not a rational regime".
"But I think the important thing to keep in mind is Iran is doing all of this without nuclear weapons. Imagine what they could do if they actually had nuclear weapons," he warned in the interview.
U.S. on global alert for Iranian reprisal
US officials are deeply concerned that Tehran may not take lying down Washington's charge that the Revolutionary Guards' Al Qods Brigades were complicit in the assassination plot or the success of a prisoner exchange deal releasing the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from Hamas captivity.
With a valuable Middle East holding about to be lost, Iran is capable of unleashing terrorists for acts that would force the hands of the United States and Israel. By drawing Hamas into such operations, Tehran would seek to torpedo the Shalit deal a moment before its consummation.
After being caught out, Iran is behaving as though it is under threat of war, its fury fueled by the US-Egyptian-Israeli-Hamas prisoner deal which threatens to cut the Islamic Republic out of Palestinian affairs and curtail its influence in the Gaza Strip, an important outpost.
The Attorney General said that the plan was "conceived, sponsored and was directed from Iran" by a faction of the government and called it a "flagrant" violation of U.S. and international law.
"The US is committed to holding Iran accountable for its actions," Holder said.
Those officials stressed that had the plotters succeeded in assassinating a foreign diplomat on US soil, it would have been deemed an act of war.
Its actual planning too was an act of Iranian aggression against the United States.
Saudis say Iran must "pay the price" for alleged plot as US resists retaliation
The Saudi Arabian government has issued a menacing warning to Iran that it will have to "pay the price" for the alleged plot to hire a Mexican drugs cartel to assassinate its ambassador in Washington.
The threat from the Saudis came as the Obama administration resisted calls from within the US, mainly from the conservative right, to retaliate against Iran with military action.
Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran have long been strained, exacerbated this year by the Saudis sending forces into neighbouring Bahrain to help put down protesters, many of them Shia Muslims.
The paragraph below is somewhat disconcerting, as it seems to keep popping up in these news reports:
In spite of increased tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran as a result of the episode, the alleged plot is being met with scepticism within the diplomatic community, as well as from foreign affairs analysts specialising in Iran, who said the plot was amateurish and did not fit in the usual Iranian modus operandi, and questioned what Iran would gain from such an episode.
A former western diplomat with an intimate knowledge of Iranian affairs said: "I don't believe Iran's regime was behind the plot. If we assume it was Iran's plot, it would seem like a group of professional gangsters hiring a careless agent for their most important project. It's impossible."
Fresh details emerged on Wednesday about Arbabsiar, the man at the centre of the supposed plot, who appeared in court in New York on Tuesday charged with conspiracy, and who is allegedly linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
He was a car salesman in Corpus Christi, Texas, where he ran a number of businesses, largely unsuccessful. He does not fit the usual profile of an Iranian agent, who tend to be professional.
Definitely food for thought
These updates just mark the beginning of this evolving story.
The key now will be determined by how Iran reacts to the accusations and whether they will now create a diversion in order to thwart the Shalit exchange.
Things are undeniably heating up in the Middle East even more than before. This most recent development just adds to a lengthy list of potential tipping points that we have been following.
The question now involves watching to see who will make the next move - the U.S.? Iran? Israel?
There is no telling as every day brings new changes and new conditions to the delicate framework in the epicenter.