Monday, July 19, 2004

The actual meaning of Iran's ties with Al-Qaeda 

The New York Times reported yesterday that somebody on the leak-proof 9/11 Commission had previewed at least one bombshell to come from its final report in September, that Iran has much closer ties to Al-Qaeda than has been generally assumed. The import of this revelation, according to the Times, is that the Bush Administration dropped the ball by focusing on Iraq:
The final report of the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks will offer new evidence of cooperative ties between Iran and Al Qaeda, including information drawn from intelligence reports suggesting that Iran provided several of the hijackers with safe passage in the year before the attacks, government officials said yesterday.

The officials emphasized that the commission had no evidence to suggest that Iranian officials knew of the Sept. 11 plot. But they said the evidence raised new questions about why the Bush administration focused on the possibility of Iraqi ties to Osama bin Laden's terror network after Sept. 11, 2001, when there may have been far more extensive evidence of an Iranian connection.

It remains to be seen whether the American fixation on Iraq has increased or decreased our leverage against Iran. On the one hand, the burden of the occupation of Iraq has diminished our capacity to take military action elsewhere. On the other hand, our presence in Iraq, in addition to Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and a couple of the other "Stans" in central Asia means that the U.S. military has effectively surrounded Iran. It also means that Israel has a clear path over Iraqi air defenses, should it come to pass that Ariel Sharon gets tired of "European methods" for dealing with Iran's nuclear capability. Also, for better or for worse, it is a safe bet that our understanding of the Iranian Shiite community is vastly deeper than it was 15 months ago.

All of that is interesting, but it is worthy of much more knowledgeable analysis than I am capable of. I have a different point to make here.

The Iranian/Al-Qaeda connection, including apparently official assistance, ought to be very surprising to people who denied a Saddam/Al-Qaeda connection on the basis that the Baathists were secular tyrants who hated us and Al-Qaeda are religious fanatics who hate us. Al-Qaeda is Sunni to the bone, and Iran is Shiite. The hatred of one for the other, which is historically manifest and has been cited so often as a reason why Iraq cannot forge a democracy from its different religious groups, had caused a lot of people to discount a connection between Al-Qaeda and Iran. If these two groups who hate each other so much can work together, why was it unreasonable to see a connection between the Baathists and Al-Qaeda, especially when there was, in fact, plenty of intelligence that pointed to such a connection, even if we have not yet proved "collaboration"?

CWCID: Jihad Watch.


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