Are Iran's assassination plots against diplomats an act of war? CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend explains

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Iran diplomat plot an act of war? 02:58

U.S. investigators are trying to get to the bottom of what is a pretty intricate plan to try to take out American diplomats and their families by Iran. According to "The Washington Post," the plot involves snipers with silencer-equipped rifles and a car bomb.

Among the targets of the alleged plot: U.S. embassy staff and family members in Azerbaijan. That's Iran's neighbor to the north.
CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend talks with Soledad and the panel this morning about the report. She's also a member of the external advisory boards for the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security as well. She explains that Iran has discussed these types of plots in the past.
"Iran does not want a full-on military conflict with the United States," Townsend explains. "What they prefer are these small-scale one-off attacks. We saw it, frankly, the most egregious up to this report was the plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador here. And so, we do see the Iranians using these sorts of tactics, these methods as provocation without going so far as to launch a military attack."
    Townsend goes on to explain that these plots could have serious consequences for Iran.
    "This debate really first came up where there was the announcement of the plot against the Saudi ambassador, an attack on a diplomat on U.S. soil," Townsend says. "This is just an extension, frankly, of that debate that started then. So any attack against an American official, whether it's in the U.S. or someplace around the world really does constitute an act of war. When all that really means is, what then? Which tools does the United States choose to use to retaliate against it? Does it use military force? Probably not, because it would be a single attack. But it could."