The Iranian government is contemplating the assassination of the American ambassador to South Africa, according to U.S. intelligence sources, according to a U.S. government official who is familiar with the issue and another official who has seen the i...
cia, iran, southafrica
The Iranian government is contemplating the assassination of the American ambassador to South Africa, according to U.S. intelligence sources, according to a U.S. government official who is familiar with the issue and another official who has seen the intelligence.
News of the plot comes as Iran continues to pursue ways to counter President Donald Trump's decision to kill an influential Iranian general earlier this year, officials said. If carried out, it could significantly escalate the already bad tensions between the US and Iran and generate immense pressure on Trump to strike back — possibly in the middle of a volatile election season.
U.S. officials have been aware of a general danger to Ambassador Lana Marks since the spring, officials said. But information on the danger to the ambassador has become more detailed in recent weeks. The Iranian embassy in Pretoria is part of the conspiracy, the U.S. government official said.
Still, targeting Marks is one of the possibilities U.S. officials claim that Iran 's regime is considering reprisals after General Qassem Soleimani was assassinated by a U.S. drone strike in January. At the time, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the U.S. killed Soleimani to restore deterrence against Iran.
The "Duty to Warn" intelligence community policy requires U.S. intelligence services to notify possible victims if information indicates that their lives might be at risk; in the case of U.S. government officials, credible threats must be included in meetings and security planning. Marks has been made aware of the threat, the U.S. government official said. Intelligence was also included in the CIA World Intelligence Review, known as the WIRe, a sensitive tool that is available to senior policy and security officials throughout the U.S. government, as well as to many lawmakers and their staff.
Marks, 66, was sworn in as the U.S. ambassador last October. Trump has been known for more than two decades and has been a member of his Florida Mar-a-Lago club. Trump's detractors ridiculed her as a "handbag designer," but her backers retorted that she was a wealthy businesswoman — their eponymous handbags cost as much as $40,000—with multiple foreign ties. A personal friend of the late Princess Diana, she was also born in South Africa and speaks some of the main languages of the region, including Afrikaans and Xhosa.
The intelligence community is not entirely sure why the Iranians are targeting Marks, who has few, if any, known connections to Iran. It's likely that the Iranians have taken into account their long friendship with Trump, the U.S. government official said.
The Iranian government also maintains covert networks in South Africa, officials said, and has had a foothold there for decades. In 2015, Al Jazeera and The Guardian published leaked intelligence documents detailing the vast secret network of Iranian agents in South Africa. Marks could also be an easier target than U.S. diplomats in other parts of the world, such as Western Europe, where the U.S. has a better relationship with localdlaw enforcement and intelligence services.
The intelligence community is not entirely sure why the Iranians are targeting Marks, who has few, if any, known links to Iran. It is possible that the Iranians have taken into account their long friendship with Trump, the U.S. government official said.
The Iranian government still operates underground networks in South Africa, officials said, and has had a presence there for decades. Al Jazeera and The Guardian released in 2015 leaked intelligence documents detailing the vast underground network of Iranian agents in South Africa. Marks may also be an easier target than U.S. diplomats in other areas of the world, such as Western Europe, where the U.S. has a stronger relationship with local diplomats.
Days after Soleiman 's death, Iran launched a ballistic missile at a military base in Iraq that housed U.S. forces, causing serious brain injuries among hundreds of U.S. troops. Trump refused to retaliate and said, "Iran appears to be standing down, which is a positive thing for all parties involved and a very good thing for the world"—though he declared fresh sanctions against the Iranian regime and cautioned it against more retaliatory action.
Some observers, however, said at the time that Iran was likely to pursue other ways to avenge Soleimani 's death. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said last month that he anticipated a new "response" from Iran to America's continued involvement in Iraq.
"I don't know what the essence of the answer would be, but we will definitely be ready if it happens," he said. On Wednesday, McKenzie announced plans to reduce U.S. troop presence in Iraq from 5,200 to 3,000 by the end of September.
During an online forum in August, McKenzie said that Iran was "our core challenge" in the region, acknowledging that the danger posed by Iran's proxies in Iraq has complicated US efforts against ISIS, the radical Sunni terrorist organization and movement. “The threat against our forces from Shia militant groups has caused us to put resources that we would otherwise use against ISIS to provide for our own defense and that has lowered our ability to work effectively against them,” he said.
The White House National Security Council did not respond immediately to requests for comments. Neither an Iranian official with a mission from Iran to the United States, nor an official from the South African embassy in Washington. Spokesmen for the State Department, the CIA and the National Intelligence Director's Office refused to comment.
The U.S. and Iran have been bitter enemies for decades, confronting each other openly at times — and engaging in diplomacy with others — but more often fighting a shadowy battle for power and influence across the wider Middle East. Under Trump, the two countries have, on more than one occasion, turned to an active military confrontation.
Last summer, the U.S. blamed Iran and its proxies for a series of explosions involving oil tankers. Iran took down a U.S. drone, and then the U.S. managed to take down an Iranian drone.
Trump admitted that, after Iran took down the U.S. drone, he almost allowed a direct assault on Iranian soil, but he stopped after being told that 150 people could die — a toll he claimed was excessive.
The dispute among countries deepened in the months that followed, particularly in Iraq, where America and the United States have been engaged in proxy warfare for a long time. In December, an American contractor was killed in Iraq following an attack by an Iranian allied militia. The U.S. responded by bombing sites controlled by the group, killing around two dozen of its fighters. Shortly after, demonstrators claimed that the militia had violated parts of the U.S. The Embassy in Bagdad.
Then, at the beginning of January, the United States launched an air strike that killed Soleiman as he visited Bagdad. It was a significant escalation, considering the significance of Soleimani in Iran, while U.S. officials characterized it as a defensive measure.
Soleimani commanded the Quds Army, a unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran that manages many of the country's military operations outside its borders. The Americans blame him for the deaths of numerous U.S. troops in the area.
Iran has threatened to retaliate. The first big operation was the 8 January missile assault on the al-Asad military base in Iraq. But at around the same time, an Iranian missile took down a commercial airliner, killing 176 people and wrestling within Iran over the regime's negligence and conflicting reasons for the incident, along with a condemnation abroad.
In recent decades, Iran and South Africa have cooperated on a variety of fronts, including the United Nations, where South Africa has also supported Iran. South Africa’s uranium deposits are believed to have been a major interest for Iran as it was ramping up its nuclear program, which Tehran has always insisted was meant for peaceful energy purposes, not a bomb. The pair also have a military relationship, having signed some basic defense pacts.
Strange Iran-connected plots have been uncovered before. Almost a decade ago, the U.S. arrested and eventually sentenced to prison an Iranian-American man who was alleged to have tried to hire Mexican drug cartel assassins to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States as he dined in Cafe Milano, a swanky Washington restaurant frequented by the city’s wealthy and powerful. The U.S. accused Soleimani of overseeing the plot.