Adrian Hamilton: Not so much a murder plot as a screenplay

World View: This is not how Tehran operates. On the whole it avoids direct confrontation

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The Independent Online

You couldn't make it up. An Iranian-American paying $1.5m to Mexican drugs gangsters to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, and all at the behest of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps back in Tehran. All we needed was a beautiful blonde to entrap the Arab and Jason Bourne to rescue him from certain death and the scenario would be complete.

But is it made up? It's not impossible that it is true. Stranger things have happened in the netherworld of Middle East terrorism. And Iran, or at least elements in it, such as the Revolutionary Guard, has form for violence abroad. There is still the suspicion that it was Tehran who paid Libya to carry out the Lockerbie bombing in revenge for the shooting down of an Iranian arliner by the USS Vincennes in 1988.

Yet, to go around hiring Mexican hitmen to carry out a diplomatic assassination in the US capital is so hare-brained and so ridiculously amateurish that it beggars belief that a people as sophisticated as the Iranians would try it. Tehran has little time for Saudi Arabia, and vice versa, but the oil kingdom is far too rich and far too well-connected internationally to risk outright conflict with. Even during the Saudi-backed suppression of the demonstrations in Bahrain, Tehran's government kept its distance.

Nor, at this moment, would Tehran see it in its interests to risk an open bust-up with Washington by killing the representative of its closest Arab ally on US soil. It's not the way the Iranian government operates. It likes to tease its opponents, divide its enemies, but on the whole it avoids direct confrontation abroad. If Tehran is now so emphatic in its denial it may well be because it is genuinely outraged at the idea.

That has not stopped Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, and the UK Prime Minister from taking the plot as proved and, in Mrs Clinton's words, reinforcing "the well-grounded suspicions of many countries about what they're up to". But then that is the problem with Washington when it comes to Iran. It is obsessed with the threat from Tehran and absolutely convinced of the malevolence of its every action. Behind every obstacle, the US, like Israel, sees the dark hand of Tehran.

In the years of conflict following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, American generals and politicians constantly blamed Iran for directing and arming the resistance, despite Iran's delight in the fall of Saddam and the absence of any proof that the roadside bombs were made in Iran and delivered by the Revolutionary Guard. The same is true in Afghanistan, where US paranoia about Iran has led to the seizure of several Iranians with diplomatic status.

In Washington's Manichean view of the world, where Islamic fundamentalism has replaced communism as the necessary global enemy to be combated, Iran has been erected into a monster, intent on creating an arc of Shia power in the Middle East, undermining the West at every point and with every means available to it, and determined to dominate the region and destroy Israel through the secret development of nuclear weaponry.

Paranoia inevitably breeds paranoia on the other side and Tehran is certainly not free from it. It's not a nice regime, not by a long chalk. It is particularly nasty to its own citizens. But far from being a spider-like weaver of dastardly plots abroad, at the moment it is far too caught up in the battle for power between President Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei to concentrate on the wider world.

Of course it's always possible that some element of the security forces, or even some individuals, have been up to amateur assassination theatrics. But it is also more than possible that the latest plot is the result of an over-heated imagination and entrapment by the FBI. It was only a decade ago, after all, that President Bush was proclaiming the "foiling" of an al-Qa'ida terror plot among the Yemeni-Americans of Buffalo, New York and that all fizzled into nothing.

Come on, let's hear it for the little guy

There is something rather splendid about the fact that it is Slovakia of all the 17 countries which make up the eurozone which has been the one to vote against the enlarged bailout funds. We've been here before, of course, with the Danish rejection of Maastricht and the Irish no to the Lisbon treaty. And each time the voters have been told to go back and think again.

No doubt the same will happen in Slovakia. The parliamentary vote against was certainly partly driven by a desire to force the fall of the government. Once this was achieved, goes the analysis, a second vote should overturn the first and the bail-out bandwagon will be back on track.

But give some credit to the small guy, or in this case the small nation. By voting against, they have given voice to what is the majority opinion in Northern Europe at least. They have shown that they are not mere tools of German policy and that the tiny and the poor have as much right to make their voice heard as the large and the rich in the policy-making of Europe.