Iranian regime plays chess, we play checkers

Kenneth Timmerman | President, Foundation for Democracy in Iran

We are so unprepared to defeat Iran’s clerical rulers and their Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (IRGC) hand-maidens. Every time we think we’ve caught them red-handed, as with the latest terror plot in Washington, D.C., they invent a new way to wriggle out of it.

Their latest gambit, which I’ve been expecting from the get-go, is to offer up the IRGC intermediary in the plot, claiming he was an infiltrator from the MEK, the Marxist Islamist group that was once part of the Khomeinist regime, but had a falling out with them over power-sharing 30 years ago.

It’s as if they have sacrificed a bishop to protect their queen, while positioning their rooks for checkmate, all the while we are playing checkers.

And don’t forget, the Iranians invented chess.

Here are the facts:

1) The IRGC, apparently at the very top level, decided to carry out a terror plot on U.S. soil against the Saudi ambassador. Gen. Qassem Suleymani, the Quds Force commander, designated a top deputy, Abdul Reza Shahlai, as the chief operations officer for the plot.

2) Shahlai says, hey, I’ve got a cousin in the United States who’s mixed up in drugs. Let’s give him a call and see if he’s got some drug contacts we can hire to carry out the attack without our fingerprints.

3) Shahlai’s cousin picks the wrong Mexican, as I wrote last week, who instead of being a gang-banger for Los Zetas turns out to be a DEA informant, and the whole plot comes crashing down.

The alleged MEK infiltrator, Ali Gholam Shakuri, is sent by Shahlai to carry expense money to his cousin (we don’t know where, but from the indictment it would appear to be when the cousin is visiting Shahlai in Iran).

This is how Arbabsiar tells the story on page 11 of the indictment:

“I tell him [SHAHLAI], give me just another fifteen. Just … next morning they send one guy, you know, that work for him [SHAHLAI]. He’s like a colonel, the guy.”

[THE DEA INFORMANT] asked, “Did the colonel take the money, the money to you?” ARBABSIAR responded, “Yes, man. He opened the door for me, the colonel, he bring the envelope. He put the envelope there for me.”

This conversation was recorded by the DEA informant and interpreted by the FBI agent working the case to mean that “after he received expense money [directly] from his cousin, [ARBABSIAR] received an additional expense payment from SHAKURI.”

Remember, Shakuri was Shahlai’s deputy, and Shahlai was a top-level operations officer working directly for the head of the Quds Force, the overseas expeditionary wing of the IRGC.

So if Shakuri was an MEK infiltrator, that means that the Iranian regime is so desperate they are willing to admit that they have been penetrated to the very highest levels of the Quds force, and that none of their operations — none of them — is secure.

If this were true, the Iranian version of James Jesus Angleton, the CIA’s legendary counter-intelligence chief, would be shutting down every operation currently in the works or in the planning stage that Shakuri or his boss might have had access to. They would be engaged in a massive damage control exercise that would cripple IRGC Quds Force operations.

Not only that, they would be standing down all their commercial front companies in Europe and their clandestine banking networks, which apparently were used to transfer money to Arbabsiar’s Mexican friend (the DEA agent) to pay for his services.

Has that happened? Not that I can see.

Here’s what I think is really going on.

The Quds Force just got made. They were sloppy, arrogant perhaps. They figured that if the plot took place as they had planned, a bomb would have gone off in a Washington, D.C. restaurant, and the headlines would read, “MEXICAN DRUG WARS COME TO WASHINGTON, DC.”

One of the people inside the restaurant would have been of interest to the drug gangs — perhaps a U.S. senator conducting an investigation, or a top-drawer lawyer working for a rival drug gang, or perhaps a suspected informant. All the traces left by the dead bomber would lead to his drug cartel ties, even those phone calls to the former used-car salesman (Arbabsiar) in Texas, who had drug-related arrests. Nothing — nothing — would point in the direction of Tehran. They just picked the wrong Mexican.

Now that they have been made, the Europeans are actually talking about taking serious measures to crack down on IRGC and Quds force operations in Europe. The U.K. has announced it is freezing the assets of the various parties involved in the terror plot.

While in itself that is not a major step, it could lead the European Union to identify and expose IRGC front companies operating in Europe (and there are lots of them), as some are suggesting.

That could actually be a step the regime takes seriously — seriously enough to offer up one of their own, Shakuri. In fact, the IRGC continues to do business all across Europe, especially in Germany. I am told that Qassem Suleimani himself frequently travels to Germany under an assumed name known to the German authorities, to oversee IRGC business operations.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the regime soon claims to have arrested Shakuri and offers up a video-taped confession, where Shakuri lays out his alleged MEK ties. After all, they’ve done this many times in the past. (Most recently, with a former IRGC officer turned diamond smuggler, Mohammad Reza Madhi-Takezand, who claimed to have penetrated the Iranian opposition in exile and returned home “repentant,” and confessed.)

Watch to see if Iran stands down the Quds Force in Iraq and Afghanistan, and their commercial and banking networks around the world. If so, then I am wrong and Shakuri really was an MEK agent, and the MEK has run an amazing intelligence penetration of the IRGC.

But failing that, this MEK story is pure disinformation, calculated to put us off the track, and the regime was 100% behind the D.C. terror plot and we need to respond vigorously.

Kenneth R. Timmerman is an investigative reporter, author, and President/CEO of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran. His books and an illustrated bio are available at KenTimmerman.com.

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