Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Al Qaeda and Iran

An article in today's Los Angeles Times calls attention to the fact that several US officials believe that Iran is in cahoots with al Qaeda. According to the article:

some officials, citing evidence from highly classified satellite feeds and electronic eavesdropping, believe the Iranian regime is playing host to much of Al Qaeda's remaining brain trust and allowing the senior operatives freedom to communicate and help plan the terrorist network's operations. And they suggest that recently elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be forging an alliance with Al Qaeda operatives as a way to expand Iran's influence or, at a minimum, that he is looking the other way as Al Qaeda leaders in his country collaborate with their counterparts elsewhere.
Of course, given the track record of US intelligence in Iraq, many are skeptical of these claims. Furthermore, Iran, as a Shiite nation, would seem to be a natural enemy of al Qaeda which has repeatedly stated that it considers Shiites to be infidels. However, Iran has gone back and forth as to whether there are al Qaeda members sheltering (or operating) in Iran. In fact:
Among them is Saif Adel, believed to be one of the highest-ranking members of Al Qaeda, behind Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri. Whatever restrictions might be placed on the network's activities within Iran, Adel — who has a $5-million U.S. bounty on his head — was able last year to post a lengthy dispatch about Al Qaeda activities in Iran and Iraq that was widely circulated on the Internet. U.S. intelligence officials consider the posting authentic.

In the dispatch, Adel said he had used hide-outs in Iran to plot with Abu Musab Zarqawi to make Iraq the new battleground in the group's war against the United States. Iran had detained many of Zarqawi's men, Adel wrote, but they ultimately slipped into Iraq and began attacking U.S. forces.
I, for one, do not buy the ideological divide issue. As realism teaches us, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend;" states do not seem to care about with whom they cooperate so long as the partners share a common enemy. Witness the US and China in the 1970s, Israel and Jordan, the Allies and the Soviet Union in WWII. If Iran believes that it can cooperate with al Qaeda to undermine US interests and security, it will likely do so.

Iraq teaches us, of course, to be exceedingly wary of intelligence reports. But, what can we make of the timing of these reports? The US is clearly trying to ramp up the pressure on Tehran. The combination of international pressure, the National Security Strategy, and these new revelations is definitely increasing the heat. As Iran digs in its heels over its nuclear program and as even Russia expresses its exasperation with Iran, the odds continue to increase of a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. All of these recent warnings, I believe, are attempts to warn Iran of the consequences of its current path of action. Let's hope the warnings are heard.