$100,000 And Hit Men
In the past two years, Iran redoubled efforts to strike its enemies in response to attacks against its nuclear program, including a major cyber-assault and assassinations of nuclear scientists with sophisticated "sticky" bombs attached to cars. Iran blames Israel and the United States for those attacks.
The regime, under pressure to show strength at home and abroad, incorporated Hezbollah into its retaliatory offensive, experts say.
"The two organizations cooperate," Alfoneh said. "The motivation of Hezbollah is to deliver services in exchange for the arms and money they receive. The motive of Iran is to repair its damaged prestige, the image that it is not even capable of defending its scientists. This is why they did those ill-prepared attacks. They needed to produce something."
Last year's Washington plot had an opportunistic quality. U.S. prosecutors charged Manssor Arbabsiar, a naturalized U.S. citizen living in Texas, and Gholam Shakuri, a colonel in the Quds Force who is thought to be in Iran, with planning to assassinate the ambassador of Saudi Arabia, a nemesis of Tehran. There was also talk about Israeli targets, according to U.S. officials.
The evidence included a $100,000 wire transfer sent to Arbabsiar and telephone intercepts of senior Iranian officers discussing his plan to hire Mexican hit men for an ambush in a restaurant, according to a criminal complaint and U.S. officials. Separately, the U.S. Treasury Department accused three Quds Force chiefs as masterminds: Gen. Qasem Sulemaini, the Quds Force commander; Hamed Abdollahi; and Abdul Shalali, a cousin of the Iranian-American suspect.
Arbabsiar had little apparent training and few qualifications other than his family connection, according to U.S. officials. His business career and personal life were checkered, according to court documents and state records. In the spring of 2011, he enlisted a Mexican drug cartel associate because he knew the man's aunt, according to officials and a federal complaint. The cartel associate, a DEA informant, promptly alerted his handlers and set in motion an undercover sting led by the FBI.
Arbabsiar pleaded innocent and awaits trial in the fall. In expert reports filed recently in federal court in the Southern District of New York, his lawyers paint him as hapless. Two defense psychiatrists said he was bipolar.
"Arbabsiar consistently lost keys and titles to cars when he ran a used car lot," Dr. Michael B. First of Columbia University wrote in one report. Arbabsiar spent much of 2010 depressed and smoking cigarettes in his room, the report says. In manic episodes, the report says, he "becomes excessively energized, speaks rapidly, becomes hypersexual, is inappropriately trusting of other people to the point where he gets taken advantage of, and needs less sleep."
On one plane flight, Arbabsiar "decided to treat the stewardess, the pilot and passengers seated around him to expensive bottles of perfume from the duty-free cart because he wanted to make everyone feel good," according to the report.