Iran plotted murder of US officials in Azerbaijan

Washington Post:
In November, the tide of daily cable traffic to the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan brought a chilling message for Ambassador Matthew Bryza, then the top U.S. diplomat to the small Central Asian country. A plot to kill Americans had been uncovered, the message read, and embassy officials were on the target list. 
The details, scant at first, became clearer as intelligence agencies from both countries stepped up their probe. The plot had two strands, U.S. officials learned, one involving snipers with silencer-equipped rifles and the other a car bomb, apparently intended to kill embassy employees or members of their families. 
Both strands could be traced back to the same place, the officials were told: Azerbaijan’s southern neighbor, Iran. 
The threat, many details of which were never made public, appeared to recede after Azerbaijani authorities rounded up nearly two dozen people in waves of arrests early this year. Precisely who ordered the hits, and why, was never conclusively determined. But U.S. and Middle Eastern officials now see the attempts as part of a broader campaign by Iran-linked operatives to kill foreign diplomats in at least seven countries over a span of 13 months. The targets have included two Saudi officials, a half-dozen Israelis and — in the Azerbaijan case — several Americans, the officials say. 
In recent weeks, investigators working in four countries have amassed new evidence tying the disparate assassination attempts to one another and linking all of them to either Iran-backed Hezbollah militants or operatives based inside Iran, according to U.S. and Middle Eastern security officials. An official report last month summarizing the evidence cited phone records, forensic tests, coordinated travel arrangements and even cellphone SIM cards purchased in Iran and used by several of the would-be assailants, said two officials who have seen the six-page document. 
Strikingly, the officials noted, the attempts halted abruptly in early spring, at a time when Iran began to shift its tone after weeks of bellicose anti-Western rhetoric and threats to shut down vital shipping lanes. In March, Iranian officials formally accepted a proposal to resume negotiations with six world powers on proposals to curb its nuclear program. 
“There appears to have been a deliberate attempt to calm things down ahead of the talks,” said a Western diplomat briefed on the assassination plots, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the intelligence. “What happens if the talks fail — that’s anyone’s guess.” 
Less clear is whether the attempts were ordered by government officials or perhaps carried out with the authorities’ tacit approval by intelligence operatives or a proxy group such as Hezbollah. Many U.S. officials and Middle East experts see the incidents as part of an ongoing shadow war, a multi-sided, covert struggle in which Iran also has been the victim of assassinations. Four scientists tied to Iran’s nuclear program have been killed by unknown assailants in the past three years, and the country’s nuclear sites have been hobbled by cyberattacks. Iran has accused the United States and Israel of killing its scientists, but it has repeatedly denied any role in plots to assassinate foreign diplomats abroad.
... 
The chance that Iran was not behind the plots is remote.  Iran is run by religious bigots who think they are on a mission from God.  This reduces the government's inhibitions about striking out at its enemies.  Obama appears to want to ignore the attacks in hopes of striking an illusory deal with the bigots who want to destroy us, Israel and the Saudis. 

I think the attacks and attempts stopped when Netanyahu was saying Israel was prepared to attack Iran and Obama, at least briefly, seem to back him.  We have in the process provided the Iranians the gift of time to continue to pursue their nuclear weapons program.  That is what Sec. Clinton calls "smart diplomacy."

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