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Good Reads: an Iranian plot to kill Saudi ambassador, and smooth Liberian elections

Today's papers focus on the alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, but watch also some positive news from Africa, where Liberian elections appear to be free of violence.

By Scott BaldaufStaff Writer / October 12, 2011

Attorney General Eric Holder speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, Tuesday. Holder announced that two individuals have been charged in New York for their alleged participation in a plot directed by elements of the Iranian government to murder the Saudi Ambassador to the United States with explosives while the ambassador was in the United States.

Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP

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Today’s papers are full of details of an alleged plot by the Iranian government to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the US. If carried out, the assassination plot would have involved a bomb blast at a Washington, D.C., restaurant frequented by the Saudi ambassador, Adel al-Jubeir, and could have killed at least 100 bystanders.

Everyone agrees that the plot reads “like a Hollywood script.” The Paris newspaper Le Monde describes it as “un scenario ‘Hollywoodien.’”

The Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock and Liz Sly write that the rivalry between the Saudi kingdom and Iran is part of a larger battle for regional hegemony that is rooted in the centuries-old schism between Islam’s two main branches, Sunni and Shia. Iran – the center of Shiite Islam – sees the Saudi ruling family as corrupt and inappropriate guardians of the holiest shrines of Islam. Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as the bastion of Sunni Islam, sees the Iranian regime as dangerous revolutionaries with nuclear-weapons aspirations.

Middle East experts predict the uncovered plot will destroy any chance of rapprochement between the two countries, and could lead to open conflict.

“Hell will break loose,” said Hilal Khashan, professor of political science at the American University of Beirut. “I don’t expect war to break out tomorrow, but if there was any hope that Saudi-Iranian relations would improve, this will be the end of it.”

The Atlantic’s Max Fisher takes a more skeptical view, asking just how exactly Iran’s interests would be served by assassinating – or being caught trying to assassinate – a Saudi ambassador on US soil.

The Iranian leadership, for all their twisted human rights abuses and policies that often serve the regime at the cost of actual Iranians, are not idiots. Though they use terrorism as a foreign policy tool, the attacks in Iraq and Lebanon and elsewhere have clearly been driven by just that – a cool-headed pragmatic desire to further Iranian foreign policy interests. Unifying the U.S. and Saudi Arabia at a time when they are drifting apart with a plot that would galvanize American publics and policymakers to support Saudi Arabia, and all without actually doing much strategic damage to either country, would be monumentally stupid. They've made serious, ideology-driven mistakes before – as government often do – but this plot comes so far out of left field that it should raise more questions than accusations.

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