The Iranian government is considering an assassination attempt against the American ambassador to South Africa as retaliation for the American drone attack earlier this year that killed Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force.
The news of Tehran’s purported plans was first reported by Politico, who spoke with one official familiar with the issue and another official who has seen the intelligence.
News of the plot comes as Iran continues to seek ways to retaliate for President Donald Trump’s decision to kill a powerful Iranian general earlier this year, the officials said. If carried out, it could dramatically ratchet up already serious tensions between the U.S. and Iran and create enormous pressure on Trump to strike back — possibly in the middle of a tense election season.
If Iran does attempt to carry out the assassination, it would severely ratchet up the already tense relations between Washington and Tehran, along with giving the Trump administration impetus to retaliate.
U.S. officials have been aware of threats against the ambassador, Lana Marks, since the spring, but intelligence suggests those threats have become more specific in recent weeks.
The Iranian embassy in Pretoria is involved in the plot, the U.S. government official said. Still, attacking Marks is one of several options U.S. officials believe Iran’s regime is considering for retaliation since the general, was assassinated by a U.S. drone strike in January.
At the time, Soleimani was the military mastermind whom Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had deemed equally as dangerous as Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In October, Baghdadi killed himself during a U.S. raid on a compound in northwest Syria, seven months after the so-called ISIS “caliphate” crumbled as the terrorist group lost its final swath of Syrian territory in March.
n April 2019, the State Department announced Iran was responsible for killing 608 U.S. troops during the Iraq War. Soleimani was the head of the Iranian and Iranian-backed forces carrying out those operations killing American troops. According to the State Department, 17 percent of all deaths of U.S. personnel in Iraq from 2003 to 2011 were orchestrated by Soleimani.
Marks has been made aware of the threat, the U.S. government official said. The intelligence also has been included in the CIA World Intelligence Review, known as the WIRe, a classified product that is accessible to senior policy and security officials across the U.S. government, as well as certain lawmakers and their staff.
Marks, 66, was sworn in as the U.S. ambassador last October. She’s known Trump for more than two decades and has been a member of his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida. Critics of Trump have derided her as a “handbag designer,” but her supporters retort that she is a successful businesswoman — her eponymous handbags run as much as $40,000 — with numerous international connections. A personal friend of the late Princess Diana, she also was born in South Africa and speaks some of the country’s key languages, including Afrikaans and Xhosa.