Iran-Zetas: Latin America is waiting for extraordinary evidence
The alleged plot involving the Iranian Qud forces included bombing embassies in Washington DC and Buenos Aires, plus selected assassinations. (Getty Images)
“If this is all that the Iranians are really capable of doing, the U.S. has nothing to fear,” said Alejandro Hope, a well-known Mexican consultant, in an interview with Univision News.
His words were similar to what was said in a recent Foregin Policy article by Afshon Ostovar titled “Worst. Plot. Ever.”
“If Iran really is behind a plan to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington, its capabilities and strategic acumen are far less impressive than anything we’ve seen thus far,” read Ostovar’s article.
Both Hope and Ostovar’s remarks echo the incredulity of the international intelligence and security community regarding the alleged conspiracy involving Iran. According to the White House, a Texas businessman of Arab descent allegedly tried to hire a Mexican drug cartel, Los Zetas, to bomb Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington, D.C. and Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Univision News conducted a series of interviews with specialists and scholars - many of whom requested anonymity because of their current positions within different Latin American governments - regarding the rumors. And so far, the only common thread seems to be a general feeling of skepticism about the validity of the claims.
The most puzzling question is: Why would the Iranians hire Los Zetas in the first place?
“This looks like a perfect frame-job,” a specialist in hemispheric defense said.
Dough Farah, senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, sees the involvement of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards – “if true” – as “something new” in the hemisphere.
“It looks like the United States is pressuring Iran, or at least it looks like the first stage of gathering significant excuses for more concrete action against Iran. And also, this story reinforces the war on drug trafficking and brings additional support to the Mérida Initiative,” another specialist told Univision News.
The Mérida Initiative, started in 2008, is a security cooperation agreement between Mexico, the nations of Central America, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti to fight drug trafficking, transnational organized crime, and money laundering. It has received heavy criticism in Mexico recently because of several delays from the U.S. in terms of funding, training, and technology. However, the U.S. Government insists on continuing the initiative.
The controversial U.S. military unit Southern Command (Comando Sur) – with a presence in 31 Latin American countries – was also named by at least one source as an actor who would benefit from the White House’s claims by putting their “machinery into action”, since they are “the only ones who have direct intervention in anything that threatens the U.S. in the region.”
Quds Force, under direct command of Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, “do not outsource violence,” said one international affairs scholar. “They also trust only their own, they have no reason to involve Hispanics in actions that have a cultural and deeply religious context,” he said.
“(The Zetas and the Quds) don’t need each other,” added Hope. He did note, however, that in the past there has been some proximity between Iran and Nicaragua, and between Iran and Venezuela, which ignited concerns about a possible presence of Hizbollah in Latin America. “But I haven’t seen any evidence of this becoming real, and the relationship between Venezuela and Iran is uncertain at this moment,” Hope said.
Juan Belikow, a foreign relations, defense, and international security professor at Universidad de Buenos Aires, said the involvement of the Zetas in the plot makes no sense at all. “The Zetas cannot possibly conduct violent actions of this size inside the U.S. border. Even more, some of them are in hiding now in countries like Guatemala and Belize due to the pressure they face in their own country.”
According to other specialist that Univision News spoke to, terrorists attacks are usually conducted through a network inside the targeted country. Sneaking “strangers and outsiders” to carry out such delicate operations does not make any sense.
“Unless (Quds Force) are trying some kind of bizarre operation … I don’t see any complementarity,” Hope said.
Gonzalo Serra, an Argentinian researcher in international affairs, agreed, adding that the Zetas cartel “needs invisibility, they don’t want to be involved in such a conflict.”
The man charged with organizing the conspiracy, Mansour J. Arbabsiar, 56, appears, under many analysts’ view, to be the weakest link in a heavy war of information.
To add more weight to this “weakest link” theory, a recent New York Times article quotes Arbabsiar’s friends in Texas as being “stunned at the news, not merely because he was not a zealot, but because he seemed too incompetent to pull it off.” The article includes a quote by Tom Hosseini, a former college roommate and friend who said, “His socks would not match. He was always losing his keys and his cellphone. He was not capable of carrying out this plan.”
Other specialists point out that the story of Arbabsiar’s dealings - offering $1.5 million to drug dealers who were actually DEA informants - isn’t in line with Iran’s delicate efforts to avoid direct confrontation with the U.S., so as not to give birth to the nightmarish scenario of a possible invasion.
“If there is anything relevant in all of this, it remains to be seen,” said Juan Rial, a Uruguayan expert and member of the board of Resdal, a Latin American network for security and defense.
With local goverments turning left, some wonder if these conditions may open the door for violent groups in countries with hostile sentiments toward the U.S., such as Bolivia and Ecuador. Hizbollah cells in the Triple Frontier of Brasil, Argentina, and Paraguay, for instance, have been the subject of The Southern Command attention and forces for some time.
“The problem is not the leftist ideologies, but Bolivarianism”, said Farah, in direct reference to Hugo Chávez’s regime in Venezuela.
Meir Javendafar, writing for The Diplomat, says “the success of the U.S. case against Iran will clearly depend on the quality of the evidence that the U.S. government has at its disposal.”
As the late scientist Carl Sagan famously stated, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. So far, the strongest evidence has been the U.S.’s stance on its story. Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has publicly expressed her incredulity on the matter.
Latin America is waiting for some clearer answers as well.