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US/World

Iran targeting U.S. Ambassador in Retaliation for Soleimani Killing

U.S intelligence has uncovered an Iranian plot to assassinate the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa, Politico reported.  A general threat against the Ambassador has been known for months, but recent intelligence uncovered more specific plans.

Iran’s targeting of Ambassador Lana Marks is in retaliation for the American drone strike in January that killed Qassem Soleimani, an Iranian general in charge of the Quds Force.  The Quds Force is a unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps responsible for much of Iran’s military efforts outside its own borders.

Soleimani was targeted for his leadership of Iranian-led and Iranian-backed forces in Iraq that were responsible for the deaths of 608 American troops during the Iraq War, according to State Department figures.  The drone strike that killed Soleimani also killed at least six other people including Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Mohammed Reda.  Al-Muhandis was the deputy commander of Iran-backed militias and Reda was an airport protocol officer according to Fox News.

At the time of Soleimani’s death, many experts predicted a serious and deadly response from the Iranian government.  Former acting CIA director John McLaughlin wrote at the time, “Iran will retaliate in some major way and probably turn loose its proxies such as the terrorist wing of Hezbollah and its militias in Iraq and Syria.”

“Iran’s responses could come across a spectrum of measures, whether that’s on the Middle East or on its nuclear program, or through covert direct actions like cyberattacks on U.S. territory,” warned Ellie Geranmayeh, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Affairs.

Former Clinton administration Defense Secretary William Cohen was sure that Iran would be more cautious in their response.  “My guess is they will be very careful in calibrating whatever decisive move they make,” he told CNBC after Soleimani’s death. “The Iranians will want to get their amount of blood back in terms of striking the U.S., but I don’t think it will be a major strike because they’d be inviting a much more overwhelming strike against them.”

Cohen has so far been proven correct.  In the immediate aftermath of the drone strike that killed Soleimani the Iranian regime vowed devastating retaliation against the United States, but very little happened.  On January 8 Iran launched a missile attack against the al-Asad military base in Iraq, which resulted in no American casualties.  President Donald Trump declined to directly retaliate after the al-Asad strike, instead choosing to impose new economic sanctions on the rogue regime.  Soon after, the Iranians downed a civilian airliner with a missile, causing the deaths of 176 civilians and bringing down recrimination on the Iranian government from nations across the world.  Since then Iran has generally avoided any direct attacks on American targets.

U.S. intelligence sources are reportedly taking the threat against Ambassador Marks very seriously, and she has been personally informed of the potential danger to her life.  The American embassy in Pretoria has made no official comment on the Iranian threat.  Intelligence sources indicated that they had no idea why Marks has been targeted for retaliation, as she has no particular links or relationship to Iran or the Middle East.

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