U.S. Intelligence officials believe Iran is plotting to assassinate the U.S. ambassador to South Africa as retaliation for the killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani on the orders.
Citing intelligence reports and a U.S. government official familiar with the issue in addition another official who has seen the documents, Politico reported that an Iranian embassy in Pretoria, South Africa's capital, is involved in discussions about a plot to kill Lana Marks, the U.S. ambassador in the country, and stated that the intelligence has become more specific about the plot in recent weeks.
Why Lana Marks?
Marks was chosen as the target due to her closeness to President Donald Trump, who ordered the hit on Soleimani. Marks, 66, a Palm Beach, Florida-based luxury fashion and handbag designer, is a long-time friend of the US president and was a member of Trump's exclusive Mar-a-Lago club in Florida before she was appointed as the ambassador in 2018.
According to the report, Iranian government also runs clandestine networks in South Africa and has established a foothold in the country over decades. In 2015, Al Jazeera and The Guardian reported on leaked intelligence documents that detailed an extensive secret network of Iranian operatives in South Africa.
Marks may also be considered as an easier target than U.S. diplomats in other parts of the world, where the U.S. has stronger relationships with local law enforcement and intelligence services.
Tensions Between US and Iran
Iran has already retaliated for Soleimani's killing in January by firing missiles at a US base in Iraq, to which the U.S. did not respond. However, the assassination of a US ambassador would push already heightened tensions between both countries to the brink of war.
Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have been steadily escalating since Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear accord. The agreement, negotiated under the Obama administration, had imposed restrictions on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions. The US has since imposed crippling sanctions on Iran, including its oil and gas industry, which has contributed towards the nation's economic decline.
The new intel comes as Trump has vowed to "deal with Iran within four weeks" should he re-elected as the president in November.
Trump ordered the drone strike in Iraq on Jan 3 that killed Soleimani, the head of the extraterritorial Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and one of Iran's most powerful officials. At the time, Trump said Soleimani was planning attacks against US troops in the region but White House officials have since given different justifications for the killing, including deterrence.
In response to the drone strike, Iran fired volleys of ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases housing US troops. There were no reported casualties at the time but it has since been revealed that dozens of soldiers developed brain injuries from the blasts. Around the same time, an Iranian missile took down a Ukrainian airliner killing 176 people onboard as the country was on high alert against an American counterattack.