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Demands Grow for Action Against Alleged Iranian Plot

By Sara Sorcher

National Journal

WASHINGTON -- As Republicans on the House Homeland Security Committee demanded that the Obama administration take more serious action against Iran for its alleged role in the purported plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador and bomb embassies in Washington, witnesses testifying before two key subcommittees on Wednesday called for everything from killing senior members of Iran’s elite Quds Force to limited cyberattacks within Iran (see GSN, Oct. 17).

“Enough is enough,” said Representative Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the Oversight, Investigations, and Management Subcommittee. “Our message to Iran should be simple: Continue threatening the national security of the United States and there will be a punitive response.” Representative Pat Meehan (R-Pa.), chairman of the Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee, called the alleged plot “a game changer [that] represents the crossing of a redline by Iran.”

Homeland Security Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.), joined in. “This is an act of war,” he said. “I don’t think we can just do business as usual, or even carrying on sanctions as usual.” King called on the U.S. to ramp up sanctions against Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps and Iran’s central bank, and expel Iranian officials both in New York at the United Nations and in Washington. “Many of them are working as spies,” he claimed.

Most of the witnesses were even more gung-ho in their range of proposals for U.S. action.

“We’ve got to put our hand around their throat right now,” retired four-star Gen. Jack Keane, former Army vice chief of staff, told the panel. “Why are we permitting the Quds Force leader [accused of orchestrating the attack] ... to keep walking around? Why don’t we kill them? ... We kill other people who are running terrorist organizations against the United States.”

Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA officer, also said the Quds Force commander should be captured or killed. Qassim Suleimani “travels a lot,” Gerecht said. “Go get him.”

Iranians planned the attack in the U.S. “because they believe we’re weak and we’re not going to respond,” Keane claimed, calling the alleged plot a “stunning rebuke to the Obama administration’s policy of negotiation and isolation with the Iranians.” The U.S. should also limit Iran’s ability to trade by denying Iranian ships entry to ports around the world, conduct an offensive cyber campaign against selected military and economic interests inside Iran, and fund dissident leaders inside Iran to encourage their followers to put pressure on the government, Keane said.

Matthew Levitt, a former Treasury Department official who now heads the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, wants the U.S. to work with its allies to reduce the size of some of the larger Iranian embassies, especially in South America, and press them to reduce the movement of Iranian diplomats.

Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress was the sole witness cautioning against “overreaction” to the alleged plot, saying the U.S. must be patient with sanctions and building international consensus. Praising the Obama administration’s recently announced sanctions against Iran’s second-largest airlines and active consideration of sanctions against Iran’s central bank, Korb insisted that “military action would be counterproductive.”

Korb’s calls for a more measured response were backed up by Democrats on the committee, like Homeland Security ranking member Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who said GOP members’ remarks that sanctions are ineffective and the assassination attempt crossed a redline “may be premature, and could inflame an already fragile climate.”

The ranking member of the Counterterrorism Subcommittee, Representative Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) also called for “sober” discussion of the foreign policy challenge rather than “inflammatory sound bites.” The U.S. “cannot take any reckless actions which may lead to opening another front in the ‘war on terror’ which the American people do not want and cannot afford,” Speier said.

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