ANALYSIS: How Iran fueled and used al-Qaeda

Iran’s relations with al-Qaeda is under the spotlight following the CIA’s release of nearly half a million documents obtained during a 2011 raid that killed the extremist group’s leader Osama Bin Laden.

How Iran at least facilitated the efforts leading to the 9/11 attacks has been discussed extensively. For decades US authorities have argued Iran-al-Qaeda ties date back to 1991, referred to in a 19-page report amongst the trove.

“Anyone who wants to strike America, Iran is ready to support him and help him with their frank and clear rhetoric,” the report reads.

REVEALED: Bin Laden daughter’s letter addressed to Khamenei

The US government’s 9/11 Commission explained how Iranian officials met with al-Qaeda leaders in Sudan as early as 1991 or 1992. This led to the Lebanese Hezbollah, an offspring of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) to begin training al-Qaeda militants in Lebanon, the commission said. IRGC training camps inside Iran have also been exposed by the Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

Al-Qaeda further enjoyed the backing of Iran and Hezbollah in the 1998 truck bombings targeting US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that left 224 people killed, including 12 Americans, US prosecutors said in their indictment of Bin Laden. This proves Iran recognizes no religious borders in allying with al-Qaeda. To reach its objective Tehran is bounded by no principles and will resort to any measures necessary, a viewpoint very rarely discussed.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei arrives to deliver a speech in Tehran on November 2, 2017. (Reuters)

Pragmatism in politics

Important for Tehran regime is to utilize all means to safeguard its rule by extending influence and reach across the Middle East. This includes wreaking havoc for the region’s nations and targeting all assets of the “Great Satan,” as the Iranian regime describes the United States.

When needed Iran provided al-Qaeda their necessities. When interests alter, however, Tehran easily changes course. The 19-page report mentioned above describes how Iranians later placed al-Qaeda members under house arrest following the Sept. 11 attacks. Tehran understood the importance of al-Qaeda for Washington after its victory in Iraq, and began planning long term.

“They decided to keep our brothers as a card,” the report said. In 2015 Iran made this true, reportedly exchanging a number of al-Qaeda leaders for a diplomat held in Yemen by the terror group’s local branch. “In my experience, the Iranian regime is the best example…of pragmatism in politics,” according to an al-Qaeda official quoted in the 19-page report.

Tehran taking advantage

While Iran and al-Qaeda shared a common enemy in the U.S., the relationship also had its sour days. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei reportedly received a letter from al-Qaeda operatives – said to be Bin Laden’s daughter – demanding Tehran release detained operatives’ family members.

In 2003, Tehran reportedly weighed a possible deal with Washington, offering to exchange a number of al-Qaeda numbers for members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) then stationed in Iraq. Nothing materialized, however.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a meeting with students in Tehran on October 18, 2017. Leader. (Reuters)

Al-Qaeda’s apparent siding with Iran may seem surprising, considering the ostensible enmity extremists like those of ISIS have for Shiites, and vice versa. “The relationship between al-Qaeda and Iran demonstrated that the Sunni-Shiite divisions did not necessarily pose an insurmountable barrier to cooperation in terrorist operations,” the 9/11 Commission reported.

Prior to 9/11, Iranian intelligence facilitated border passage to al-Qaeda militants without stamping passports or with previously provided visas by its consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, according to the 19-page report.

This mirrors US intelligence, showing how eight of 9/11’s hijackers passed through Iran before arriving into the mainland United States. One can now doubt claims of Hezbollah or Iran not being aware of the 9/11 planning. Experts have also noted how Iran leads a campaign, if you will, seeking short and long term interests.

Also read: CIA files shows depth of al-Qaeda’s relationship with Iran

Iran has trained militias to fight in Iraq and Syria under the pretext of “protecting” Shiite holy sites and shrines. Described as a “mere dog-whistle aimed at rallying sectarians to prop up the Assad and Maliki regimes,” reports show how Iran-backed groups have deployed forces to areas lacking any shrines to “protect.”

All the while, Iran’s proxy groups have staged horrific massacres against Sunni communities across Iraq and Syria. Furthermore, in the past several years the Iran-backed Assad regime has suspiciously retreated from various positions, only to see ISIS gain ground, while mutually attacking the grassroot Syrian opposition.

Numerous intelligence reports indicate how Tehran provided long-term shelter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, founder of al-Qaeda in Iraq. The IRGC protected and groomed Zarqawi, whose group become the predecessor to ISIS, the reports add. The IRGC also facilitated resources allowing al-Qaeda in Iraq to rebuild infrastructure to launch its blitzkrieg offensive from Syria, taking over large swathes Iraq.

U.S. intelligence has well documented Tehran’s ties with al-Zarqawi, strongly doubting the narrative provided by the Obama administration following ISIS’s rampaging of numerous Iraqi cities.

Barack Obama speaks about the nuclear deal with Iran on Aug. 5, 2015. (AP)

Obama’s appeasement

With Bin Laden killed in 2011, why did the Obama administration keep a lid on this valuable source of vital intelligence?

CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani told Bloomberg the new documents specify “Iran and al-Qaeda have an agreement to not target each other. The documents indicate Bin Laden referred to Iran as the ‘main artery’ for al-Qaeda to move funds, personnel and communications.”

The Obama administration released selected sets of Bin Laden files, in an attempt to emphasize a fierce rivalry between Iran and the extremist group. We now understand the Obama administration had complete knowledge of Tehran’s lethal cooperation with al-Qaeda.

The timing of Obama obtaining such vital intelligence about Tehran’s relations with al-Qaeda suspiciously overlaps Iran’s extensive meddling in the region, especially the lethal crackdown of its opposition in Iraq.

Iran has gone the limits in attempting to annihilate its opposition. As WikiLeaks revelations shed light on Iran’s conspiracies against the PMOI/MEK, rest assured the future has more such exposures.

President Trump speaks about the Iran nuclear deal in the White House on October 13, 2017. (Reuters)

Outstanding threat

Iran will deny any relations with al-Qaeda. Interesting is how Iran initially denied any role in Syria and Iraq. The status quo proves Iran’s lethal footprint in literally opening the gates of hell upon these two nations.

The Obama years are over. Al-Qaeda and ISIS have lost their organizational structure, after Iran took complete advantage of them. Iran and the IRGC, however, continue causing mayhem.

The CIA release follows US President Donald Trump’s landmark decision to decertify the flawed Iran nuclear deal. The Trump administration has also ended decades of rapprochement, highlighted in the IRGC blacklisting. This very necessary measure needs full-throttle implementation without any loopholes.

Despite their differences, the European Union and United States should join force in the long overdue effort to end Iran’s foot-print in Syria and Iraq.

U.S. Drastic Measures On Iran Have Just Begun

The new US strategy vis-à-vis Iran began to unravel this week.

Making headlines has been the CIA’s latest trove of nearly half a million documents indicating deep ties between Iran and the al-Qaeda terrorist network. Experts have been busy analyzing the data, especially showing how Iran offered al-Qaeda operatives “everything they needed,” including “money, arms” and “training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in exchange for striking American interests in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf,” according to the Foundation for Defense of Democracy’s Long War Journal.

On October 31st the U.S. Treasury Department officially implemented the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), described by officials in Iran as the “mother of all sanctions” targeting Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

New sanctions are leveled against IRGC commanders and affiliates involved in domestic crackdown, plundering the population’s wealth, exporting the regime’s terrorism, and advancing Tehran’s nuclear proliferation and ballistic missile program.

Also described as a “black hole,” CAATSA will be placing the very pillars of the Iranian regime in its crosshairs. The IRGC’s Khatam al-Anbiya Headquarters, known to pursue massive construction projects, has around 5,000 companies under its umbrella involved in building dams, power plants and refineries. The IRGC in its entirety reportedly controls over 40% of Iran’s economy.

Furthering Tehran’s troubles is a new push by 13 prominent U.S. senators in a letter calling on the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. With Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) leading the initiative, this demands a rigorous new international inspections regime to be imposed on Iran’s nuclear program.

The main objectives include gaining vital access to Iran’s military sites, up to now considered off-limits by Tehran, and escalating transparency into the regime’s uranium enrichment drive.

Iran is suspected of taking advantage of military sites to continue nuclear activities banned under a nuclear agreement considered landmark by some, while highly flawed by others. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors have been banned or forced to endure a bureaucracy of 54 days to obtain access to disputed sites.

This, of course, provides Tehran enough time destroy all trace of illicit activities, as seen when the highly controversial Lavizan-Shian site was razed to the ground in late 2003 and early 2004. Iran went the limits to cover up undeclared nuclear activities, according to Western diplomats.

Aerial image of Lavizan-Shian after extensive razing. (Courtesy: getty images)

The new initiative from U.S. senators, highlighting “shortcomings in the inspection and verification regime,” is said to enjoy the Trump administration’s full backing, as the White House seeks to resolve outstanding issues over Iran’s compliance with the deal and patch outstanding loopholes providing the regime dangerous opportunity to obtain nuclear weapons.

Aiming to garner further international support, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin headed to the Middle East, visiting Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Mnuchin focused his efforts on ratcheting up pressure on Iran by placing special focus on terror financing across the region.

Under this escalating pressure, Tehran scrambled a senior military commander to level new threats of launching ballistic missile attacks against U.S. forces stationed across the Middle East. This followed reports of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei “limiting” the range of his forces’ ballistic missiles to nearly 1,300 miles, or 2,000 kilometers.

While this does encompass all regional U.S. bases, we must understand that Tehran’s forces are no match against the U.S. military. And rest assured, this regime enjoys no public support. Considering the weight of Washington’s Iran policy shift, Tehran is desperately resorting to such measures to save face at home and prevent any sign of weakness before an increasingly restive society.

Iran’s growing international isolation today is all due to initial revelations back in August 2002 when the Iranian opposition coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) blew the whistle on the Natanz uranium enrichment site and Arak heave water production plant.

Natanz nuclear enrichment facility, Iran. (Courtesy: Cryptome)

Ever since the NCRI has played a leading role in alerting the world of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, especially the clandestine network of military complexes.

Back in July 2003 the NCRI provided information on the secret Kolahdouz military complex located west of Tehran, home to a uranium enrichment testing facility.

At a Washington press conference in June the NCRI provided vital information on dozens of sensitive IRGC missile sites, including twelve previously unknown and one specifically linked to its controversial nuclear program.

The NCRI’s recent 52-page investigative publication, “Iran’s Nuclear Core: Uninspected Military Sites,” came as a bombshell. More than two years into a nuclear deal supposedly aimed to prevent block Tehran’s path to nuclear weapons, this report is a wake-up call showing how Iran’s A-bomb drive is in fact up and running.

Iran’s civilian nuclear program, where regime officials eagerly escort inspectors, is providing the necessary cover for the military branch to pursue their lethal objectives.

For nearly two decades the IRGC unit tasked to advance Iran’s nuclear bomb drive is the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research (Sazman-e Pazhouheshhaye Novin-e Defa’i), known by its Persian acronym SPND.

The Center for Research and Expansion of Technologies for Explosion and Impact (Markaz-e Tahghighat va Tose’e Fanavari-e Enfejar va Zarbeh), known by its acronym METFAZ, is focused on research and building the nuclear weapon trigger.

Iran has scattered the facilities involved in this regard throughout several sprawling military houses that include dozens of silos and tunnels. This provides Tehran the ability to relocate necessary centers and projects, making pinpointing more difficult for IAEA inspectors, and thus reducing the exposure possibility.

The NCRI has identified four chief sites mainly pursuing the nuclear weapons drive:

  1. Pazhouheshkadeh, inside the Parchin military complex 30 miles southeast of Tehran, which has recently become the main center for METFAZ’s tests.
  2. The Nouri Industrial site, located at the maximum security Khojir military complex southeast of Tehran and spanning 75 square miles. The Hemmat Missile Industries Group, stationed in Khojir, focuses on nuclear warheads production.
  3. The Hafte Tir site, under the authority of Iran’s Defense Ministry, is located inside a military base found in a mountainous region near the town of Mobarakeh between the major cities of Isfahan and Shiraz. SPND has supervised the construction of underground tunnels at this site.
  4. The Sanjarian site, located on the banks of Jajrood River east of Tehran. Until recently this center was considered the main METFAZ testing facility and a subdivision of SPND.

The very fact that these key nuclear sites have gone uninspected by the IAEA, and how the IRGC is directing this effort, makes the new U.S. senators’ initiative and Treasury Department sanctions all the more essential.

Such measures are recommended to expand to all individuals, entities, institutions and companies affiliated to or involved in deals with the IRGC. Sanctioning each IRGC proxy abroad and all 31 provincial commanders inside Iran will significantly curb the regime’s warmongering and domestic crackdown capability.

Bold measures are needed to bring an end to Iran’s lethal belligerence across the region, implemented through the IRGC. This is key for any hope of terminating Middle East wars and bloodshed.

The U.S. has launched the policy needed to reach these objectives. Needed now is for the European Union to also blacklist the IRGC and end Iran’s use of this rift in international policy to its benefit in supporting terrorism.