Eight months after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the strike that killed Iranian Quds Force General Quasem Soleimani, the Islamic Republic is reportedly planning a strike to take revenge. Iran is mulling plans to assassinate U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Lana Marks, according to U.S. intelligence reports.
Officials revealed the plot to Politico, explaining that Iran “continues to seek ways to retaliate” for Soleimani’s death.
American officials have known about the threat since the spring, but the intelligence has become more specific in recent weeks, Politico reported. The Iranian Embassy in Pretoria, the capital of South Africa, is reportedly involved in the threat.
Marks, a 66-year-old businesswoman who was a member of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club before she became a U.S. ambassador last October, has been alerted to the threat, officials told Politico. A personal friend of Princess Diana, Marks was born in South Africa and speaks some of the country’s key languages, including Afrikaans and Xhosa.
The Islamic Republic operates clandestine networks in South Africa, where it has had a foothold for decades. In 2015, Al Jazeera and The Guardian reported on intelligence documents that detailed an extensive secret network of Iranian operatives in South Africa. Iran has a long history of carrying out assassinations beyond the country’s borders.
The U.S. assassinated Soleimani, who led Iran’s terrorism efforts in the Middle East and has been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers, days after Iran-backed militias besieged the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad reportedly on Soleimani’s orders.
After the strike, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei vowed “severe revenge,” but the regime’s efforts have failed. Iran fired missiles at U.S. assets, but the country also shot down a Ukrainian plane, killing its 176 passengers (82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, 7 Afghans, and 3 British citizens), sparking protests in the streets of Tehran. Iran petitioned INTERPOL to demand an arrest warrant for Trump over Soleimani’s death, but INTERPOL refused. An Iranian issued an $80 million bounty on Trump’s head, to no avail as yet.
While Iran’s efforts have failed so far, the Islamic Republic may grow increasingly dangerous with its increasing desperation. Before Soleimani’s death and the recent protests, Iran faced protests last November after the country reduced fuel subsidies by 50 percent and instituted rationing, in part due to pressure from the Trump administration after America withdrew from the Iran deal.
Then the coronavirus pandemic came, just before parliamentary elections. Tehran appears to have suppressed information about the coronavirus in order to avoid a low turnout in the elections. Voting fell to the lowest level since 1979, and Khamenei accused the country’s enemies of exaggerating the threat of the coronavirus right before the election.
The outbreak appears to have begun in Qom, the mullahs’ spiritual center. Satellite images from space showing mass graves appear to have confirmed the opposition’s claims that Tehran has vastly under-reported the death count from the coronavirus pandemic. This past weekend, Iran recorded its highest number of deaths from COVID-19 in a 24-hour period, at 163. The true number is likely higher.
Iran’s opposition party is also mobilizing. It hosted a virtual global summit in July. There are also heartening signs that Soleimani’s death has paved a new future for the Middle East. In recent weeks, Trump brokered a deal in which the United Arab Emirates (UAE) officially recognized Israel; he announced that two European countries had reached a peace deal between themselves and with Israel and would set up embassies in Jerusalem; and he announced that Bahrain would establish diplomatic ties with Israel. These Arab countries would not be moving in Israel’s direction if Soleimani still led Iran’s terror efforts in the Middle East.
Despite all this progress, a desperate Iran is a dangerous Iran. The Islamic Republic may indeed try to assassinate Lana Marks, and the U.S. needs to protect her.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.