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October 13, 2011


What U.S. should do about Iran
William S. Cohen

Story Highlights

  • William Cohen: Longtime Mideast observers baffled by reports of the plot
  • He says if Iran's leaders weren't aware, then they have a serious problem
  • Iran officials must hold those involved accountable for their actions, he says
  • Cohen: U.S., Saudis can take variety of steps to increase pressure on Iran

Editor's note: William S. Cohen has served as U.S. Defense Secretary and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He is now chairman and chief executive officer of The Cohen Group, an international business advisory firm.

Washington (CNN) -- Longtime observers of the Middle East are baffled by allegations that high-ranking officials in the Iranian government approved a plan to assassinate Saudi Arabia Ambassador, Adel al-Jubeir, and blow up the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington. Commentators have described the plan as "brazen," but "bizarre" and 'bone-headed" might be more appropriate adjectives.

It's difficult to comprehend either the motives or the means selected to carry out the plan outlined by the Justice Department in its criminal indictment of Manssor Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri. Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia are not new, but Iran has been both cautious and clever enough to restrain its ambitions for regional dominance./p>

If the allegations of the assassination and bombing plot are true, and the covert operation had proved successful, Iran's leaders would have invited retaliation on a scale far more vigorous than any they might have contemplated. Indeed, I think it's fair to say that the Iranian landscape would likely have been substantially altered.

Assuming, however, that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad never authorized the action or were ever aware of it, both have great cause for concern. Elements in their covert, black bag, assassination/ terrorist unit were planning an attack that could have brought about the decapitation of their leadership, the obliteration of their ambitions to enter the nuclear weapons club and quite possibly have precipitated a global depression by engulfing the region in war. Rather than dismissing the plot as a Zionist fabrication, these leaders should be looking inward and holding accountable those who were responsible for undertaking such a dangerous and destructive mission.

While awaiting greater clarification from those responsible for moving forward with the prosecution against Arbabsiar and Shakuri, the United States should explore several options:

1. Bring the assassination and bombing plan to the United Nations Security Council and seek much tougher sanctions against Iran;

2. Encourage Saudi Arabia to review and revise its contractual arrangements with any country that refuses to support the imposition of tougher sanctions against Iran;

3. Intensify the effort to expose the activities of those nations who are circumventing the existing sanctions against Iran;

4. Make it clear to all members of the U.N. that Iran's nuclear weapons program poses a serious threat to global stability. If a non-nuclear Iran initiated an assassination plan through a Mexican drug cartel, what would it be tempted to do once it possess a nuclear weapon?

5. Strengthen our ability to keep the Persian Gulf open should hostilities ever break out;

6. Force the administration and Congress to move forward on improving the defense posture of our friends and allies who are threatened by Iran;

7. Urge Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States to move more aggressively in constructing coordinated, regional defense and security policies; and

8. Release intelligence information, to the maximum extent possible, which exposes those in the Iranian regime responsible for this act -- as a means of galvanizing support for the actions, such as additional sanctions, mentioned above.

The above options are illustrative only. Others may have more punitive measures in mind. But right now, the United States and Saudi Arabia should proceed with vigor and not permit Iran to hide its dagger behind its back in its left hand, while professing its innocence with the right.


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