May we now dispense with the polite fiction that a nuclear-armed Iran could somehow be “contained”? After all, if Iranian officials were willing to plot the assassination of a prominent Saudi diplomat on U.S. soil (in partnership with Mexican gangsters, no less), what does that say about the nature of their regime? What does it say about their capacity for aggression and their appetite for risk? What does it say about their willingness to contravene the most basic norms of international behavior?
Lest we forget, this was hardly the first time that Tehran attempted to murder someone overseas. Thirty-one years ago, in July 1980, the Iranian government sponsored the assassination of Iranian exile Ali Akbar Tabatabaei, who was then living in Bethesda, Maryland. (Tabatabaei had worked at the Iranian embassy in Washington under the Shah. The gunman who killed him, an American convert to Islam named Dawud Salahuddin, subsequently escaped to Iran, where he has lived as a fugitive for the past three decades.)
For that matter, since the Islamist takeover in 1979, high-level Iranian officials “have been linked to the assassinations of at least 162 of the regime’s political opponents around the world,” according to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center. Indeed, “at least twenty officials, agents or proxies of the Islamic Republic have been tried and convicted of involvement in the orchestrated killings of Iranian dissidents and others abroad.”
Several of those killings took place at a Berlin restaurant in September 1992, when Iranian-backed gunmen slaughtered three senior members of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (Fattah Abdoli, Homayoun Ardalan, and Sadegh Sharafkandi), along with their translator (Nouri Dehkordi). This vicious crime was planned at the highest levels of the Iranian regime, with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and then-President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani each offering support. It took place exactly six months to the day after Iranian agents executed a terrorist bombing at the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, which killed 29 people.
Roughly two years later, in July 1994, Tehran carried out an even deadlier bombing at the city’s AMIA Jewish community center. This attack, the worst terrorist atrocity in Argentine history, killed 85. Interpol has since issued arrest warrants for several past or present Iranian officials in connection with the AMIA massacre, including the current defense minister, Gen. Ahmad Vahidi.
With its failed scheme to murder the Saudi ambassador, Tehran graduated to a new level of violent audacity. “If the Justice Department’s information is correct,” writes Iran expert Reuel Marc Gerecht, “the conspiracy confirms a lethal fact about Iran’s regime: It is becoming more dangerous, not less, as it ages.”
What would it mean if such a regime went nuclear? Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that a nuclear-armed Iran would never use its atomic weapons or give them to terrorists. Even under that optimistic scenario, Tehran’s acquisition of nukes would make the world an infinitely more dangerous place.