The story seems lifted, hastily, from a John le Carre spy novel, or a mediocre television movie. Two Iranian secret agents—one working as a used-car salesman—reached out to a man they believed was linked to a Mexican drug cartel, looking to hire a hit man to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States at a Washington, D.C. restaurant. The plot never went anywhere; the Federal Bureau of Investigation was in on the scheme from the outset, and the supposed cartel affiliate was nothing of the sort.
Most observers’ gut instinct was that this story was simply too strange to be true, but given the source—Attorney General Eric Holder announced the arrests, and President Obama, along with various Saudi politicians, backed it up—it must be taken on faith as being, for the most part, factually correct. The question then becomes: at what level was the Iranian government involved in the plotting, and why would a regime that has craftily sponsored terrorist-affiliated organizations with savvy and know-how, like Hezbollah and Hamas, would get involved with such an amateurish scheme?
What did Iran hope to accomplish with such a brazen attack on American soil? By getting caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar, Iran only further underscores the battle lines of the new Middle East, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian mullahs on one side, fomenting unrest by any means necessary, and the older, American-aligned governments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the like on the other. The demise of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and the continuing unrest of the Arab Spring spells a continued round of uncertainty in the region, which makes Iran the most powerful—and as we are continually reminded, the most unpredictable—player around.