A shock report by the American news website Politico alleges that Iran is weighing up the attempted assassination of Lana Marks, the US ambassador to South Africa and a close ally of US president Donald Trump.
In an article published on Saturday, September 13, Politico cited US officials who claimed the Islamic Republic is considering an attack on Marks in retaliation for the assassination of Ghasem Soleimani, the late commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, by the US in January.
According to the report, diplomats at the Iranian embassy in Pretoria are involved in the plot and the level of intelligence received by the US has become “more specific” in recent weeks. Iran’s leadership has previously promised “serious revenge” for the attack and every Thursday night since Soleimani’s death on January 3, IRGC-affiliated media outlets have broadcast reports stressing the ongoing need for “revenge”.
Iran has already responded to Soleimani’s killing with rocket attacks on vacant areas of a US airbase in Iraq, as well as the US embassy in Iraq. But Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei described the former as a “slap in the face” to the US over the presence of troops in the region, implying Iran may yet seek further reprisal for the assassination of Soleimani. An assassination plot would be the most extreme form of retaliation, and in this case, the 20-year friendship between Marks and Trump could be a contributing factor in her alleged selection as a possible target.
What Precedent is There for This Alleged Plot?
This is the second time in the last decade that the Islamic Republic has been accused by US officials of plotting to assassinate a senior diplomat. In September 2011, during Barack Obama’s presidency, Iran was accused of trying to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir.
In September 2011 an Iranian-American citizen, Mansour Arbabsiar, was arrested in the US and sentenced to 25 years in prison for his part in the plot. The US Department of Justice announced that Arbabsiar had been working in collaboration with senior Quds Force member Ali Gholam Shakouri to have al-Jubeir killed by a Mexican criminal gang.
Following his time as ambassador to the US from 2007 to 2015, during which he worked to strengthen US-Saudi bilateral relations, Adel al-Jubeir went on to serve as the Saudi foreign minister. In his subsequent speeches on Iran he has recalled the assassination plot, calling for nuclear sanctions and decrying Iran’s “evil behavior” in the Middle East. The plot thus appears to have had a destructive effect not only on al-Jubeir’s conception of Iran but on Saudi-Iran relations in general.
These charges against Iran of planning overseas assassinations mirror those issued against it during the 1979 Islamic Revolution. These attacks not targeted political opponents of the new regime or people affiliated with the government of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, but also non-Iranians.
In his presidential diaries, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani recalled that Sultan Qaboos, the then-king of Oman, nad sent his special envoy to Tehran in June 1995 to tell Rafsanjani at a private meeting that Iran’s diplomatic officials in Muscat were planning to assassinate one of Sultan Qaboos’s foreign guests. Without denying the plot, Rafsanjani wrote a note a few days later to say the would-be perpetrator had been summoned to Tehran.
Kuwait, Bahrain, Sudan, and Kenya are among the other countries that have previously publicly declared the Islamic Republic was planning attacks and assassinations on their soil, using embassy officials in an abuse of diplomatic immunity.
Assadollah Asadi, the third secretary of the Islamic Republic's embassy in Vienna, is currently on trial in a Belgian court on charges of attempting to bomb an Iranian opposition group’s annual ceremonies in Paris. This was the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic that the documentary evidence against an Iranian diplomat was, by itself, enough to see his diplomatic immunity revoked – and thus for him to be arrested and tried instead of simply expelled.
What Will the Impact of the Revelations Be?
The plot to assassinate the US ambassador to South Africa will not only negatively affect already tense relations between Iran and the United States, but will also reduce the trust of US government officials in the Islamic Republic – and expand the isolation of the Iranian regime on the international stage.
In addition, South Africa has had close ties with the Islamic Republic since Nelson Mandela came to power. It has proved a dependable ally to Iran in difficult times, such as during the nuclear crisis. Reports such as this, of Iran building a secret network of operatives and plotting to kill a US diplomat on South African soil, may not lead to an immediate severance or reduction in relations between the two countries. But they will have long-term negative consequences.
This could sadly include antipathy towards Iranians in general. In the absence of direct, constant contact, the citizens of a given country are generally associated by others with the personalities and actions of their leaders. This reported plot on the part of the Islamic Republic damages the dignity of all Iranian citizens and, of course, once again cements the reputation of the Islamic Republic as a rogue state hell-bent on carrying out criminal acts overseas.