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.

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What Is Iran’s Policy-Making Mechanism?

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By Heshmat Alavi

As we close in to the Iran presidential election — read “selection” — a more precise look at the policymaking mechanisms at work in this very peculiar theocratic system is necessary.

The regime in Iran, with Hassan Rouhani as its president, has been eager to portray an image of a government mending fences with the international community.

However, no beginning of true political change has occurred in Iran despite Rouhani’s deceptive smiles. The so-called “reformist-moderate” initiative in Iran has only further strengthened and secured Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) in power.

There is a misleading notion of two divergent political trends in Iran, one pursuing a so-called “hardline” approach led by the Khamenei-IRGC camp, and another claiming a more “reformist” attitude by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his mentor and fierce Khamenei rival, the late former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Yet the harsh reality is that these seemingly competing trends are quietly harmonious in practice. Khamenei continues to monopolize power in Iran, while in need of the rival camp to portray a satisfactory canvas of his regime to the outside world.

Khamenei has the last word on all national security and foreign policy matters. Concern at times raised by outside analysts over escalating tensions between the two sides over subjects such as the nuclear deal are the result of Iran’s deceptive propaganda machine at work. The regime, in its entirety, focuses on swaying all attention far from the true policymaking mechanics at work deep in Tehran.

Rouhani only became president with Khamenei’s personal blessing, as the latter understood fully the potential of another 2009-style uprising brewing in Iran. The Guardian Council, Khamenei’s lever to control all elections by vetting each and every candidate, enjoys the authority to bar any individual considered unpalatable. Rest assured that Khamenei considered Rouhani useful, or else he would have joined the long list of disqualified others.

Khamenei saw his regime facing a massive economic crisis threatening to spark a major uprising after former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, described as a firebrand, plunged Iran into serious international isolation. Sanctions were frustrating the Iranian population and the global oil price nosedive added insult to injury.

At first glance the IRGC, taking control over a large portion of Iran’s economy, was benefiting as sanctions burdened private sector competitors. Yet little by little even the IRGC’s profits began to plunge, and Khamenei realized his desperate need for sanctions reliefs at the price of taking a major step back from his nuclear ambitions.

Tehran is taking advantage of the Iran nuclear deal as a medium to calm domestic unrest and to revive the IRGC’s former economic stature. To this end, Khamenei needed a figure such as Rouhani to help convince the international community to make the deal. Of course, Tehran also enjoyed a major lifeline through the pro-appeasement dogma adopted by U.S. President Barack Obama.

In the meantime, Khamenei also needed to preserve his domestic image, as kowtowing to foreign pressure would be recipe for disaster. This is where the regime pursued a two-faced approach. While Rouhani and his top diplomat, Mohammad Javad Zarif, played “good cop” shaking hands with the “Great Satan,” Khamenei remains the “bad cop” in resorting to blatant rhetoric against America and Co.

This double-standard policy, pursued in parallel, has become the doctrine for the Iranian regime to maintain control over increasing domestic agitation while presenting an appealing portrait to the outside world.

While regime loyalists stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran and Khamenei threatened Riyadh with “divine revenge,” five American hostages were released in return for the United Nations declaring Iran in compliance with the nuclear pact.

A further in-depth evaluation proves Iran’s new economic exchanges with the West are not parallel to any political improvements. In fact, safeguarding the IRGC’s grip on the economy is considered vital to enhancing their political position.

The IRGC has also been described as “a major force when it comes to controlling Iran’s economy. Many Iranians in and out of the country have called the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps ‘Iran’s mafia.’”

The elimination of 99% of so-called “reformist” candidates in the February 26 parliamentary elections can provide a preview to the upcoming presidential elections, with higher stakes at play.

No pragmatic behavior by Iran will render any meaningful change within. Nor will Tehran ever abandon regional ambitions in which it has invested billions, including Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon. In fact, boosting efforts to realize such objectives is necessary to maintain Iran’s political status quo.

While Khamenei remains in control, recent developments in Syria, with Russia and Turkey spearheading a ceasefire agreement, are completely against Iran’s interests. This is parallel to snowballing dissent inside Iran on the verge of intense times prior to the May 2017 presidential election. This leaves Khamenei before a major dilemma over how to play his cards.

“The 37-year-old experience of the destructive and murderous mullahs’ regime in my country has shown that no degree of political and economic concessions, which have been carried out at the expense of the Iranian people, have led to a change of behavior or policies of the Iranian regime either inside or outside of Iran,” said Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella group of dissident entities including the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

Sanctions relief providing temporary life-support for Tehran won’t last long. The international community, and the new administration in Washington, should take advantage of the nuclear deal to increase pressure on Tehran, forcing it to start actually abiding by international laws and standards.

Originally posted in American Thinker

Heshmat Alavi is a political and rights activist. His writing focuses on Iran, ranging from human rights violations, social crackdown, the regime’s support for terrorism and meddling in foreign countries, and the controversial nuclear program.

He tweets at @HeshmatAlavi

What to learn from Iran’s unconventional naval tactics

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Tehran took advantage of Obama’s appeasement to increase its Middle East influence. An alternative is available, and it’s not war.

 

Once again Iran resorted to its desperate and unprofessional tactic of dispatching fast-attack boats in the Persian Gulf to harass U.S. Navy ships, this time leading to warning shots fired by the USS Mahan destroyer.

 

This latest incident, taking place on Monday, January 9th, was the first such case recorded in 2017 and can be a prelude to what lies ahead. A weak Obama administration policy vis-à-vis Iran, based on appeasement, allowed Tehran take advantage especially for domestic purposes.

 

Iran understands perfectly it stands no match against the U.S. in conventional military warfare, including naval combat. The Iranian navy suffered devastating blows by the U.S. Navy throughout the 1980s through the course of the Iran-Iraq War.

 

Following a year of significant tension in the Gulf and Strait of Hormuz–through which a significant amount of the world’s oil exports passes–Iran is bracing for a new administration in Washington.

 

After Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei succumbed to the humiliation of signing a nuclear accord with the international community, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, he desperately needs to continue boasting the anti-American mantra through such measures and provocative marital encounters.

 

Despite the U.S. designating Iran as the leading state sponsor of terrorism, the mullahs understood fully how former U.S. president Barack Obama sought to hallmark the Iran deal as his foreign policy legacy. As a dismal consequence, amongst many others, Tehran was able to pursue its lethal policies in Syria to maintain Bashar Assad in power, knowing the Obama administration would refrain from any action threatening the nuclear talks.

 

Betting on the notion Obama would avoid any confrontation potentially endangering the JCPOA, Iran escalated its use of unconventional military methods to maintain a satisfactory image and reputation for its already dwindling and dismal social base.

 

Back in January of 2016 Iran’s Revolutionary Guards members apprehended a number of U.S. Navy sailors, launching a wave of criticism in the U.S. against Obama and his Iran doctrine. It is believed the general political atmosphere established by the Obama administration twisted the U.S. Navy’s arm from taking any measures even authorized by the books.

 

Parallel to naval aggravations, Iran has invested in a dangerous ballistic missile program, threatening not only U.S. interests and allies in the Middle East, but also capitals in Eastern Europe. This must be evaluated through Khamenei’s perspective, how ballistic missile launches allows him to canvas a somewhat reputable image against the “Great Satan” and other Iran ill-wishers.

 

This need increased significantly following the sudden death of former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. While considered a staunch rival of Khamenei and seeking his throne, Rafsanjani was nonetheless the balancing element for the regime in its entirety. His absence has left a void, and Khamenei and the regime against dangerous times ahead.

 

“The death of Rafsanjani, one of the pillars of the religious fascism ruling Iran and its balance factor collapsed, and the regime in its entirety is closer now to its overthrow,” explained Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an umbrella group of dissident entities including People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

 

The new U.S. administration has the opportunity to remedy the highly flawed Middle East doctrine adopted by Team Obama, most importantly its Iran policy dossier.

 

Supporting the NCRI is one serious option in this regard.

“Nearly two dozen former top U.S. government officials have urged President-elect Donald Trump to work with Iran’s opposition once in office,” based on a letter obtained by Fox News, signed by former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani; former Sen. Joe Lieberman; and retired Army Gen. Hugh Shelton, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Bill Clinton, to name a few.

The Future Of Iran Following Rafsanjani’s Death

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Former Iran’s president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, speaks during Friday prayer ceremony in Tehran on Friday May, 26, 2006. (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)

Originally published in Forbes

By Heshmat Alavi

The regime in Iran suffered a major setback after former president and figurehead Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani died of a heart attack on Sunday. He was 82.

Following the 1979 revolution, Rafsanjani played an influential role in structuring the regime’s policies, and his death will leave a significant power vacuum, coming less than four months prior to significant presidential elections.

Known for his persuasive role in shaping the regime’s politics following the 1979 revolution, Rafsanjani will leave a power vacuum in his wake.

During the past four decades Rafsanjani preserved a top role in the regime’s domestic crackdown, exporting Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism and extremism, and spearheading Iran’s effort to acquire nuclear weapons through an underground program.

“The death of Rafsanjani, one of the pillars of the religious fascism ruling Iran and its balance factor collapsed, and the regime in its entirety is closer now to its overthrow,” said Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

Following the Iran-Iraq War from 1980 to 1988, serving as Parliament Speaker and deputy commander of armed forces, Rafsanjani reached the presidency in 1989 and held this post until 1997. After two years of the so-called “reformist” Mohammad Khatami as president, Rafsanjani attempted to run for the office once again in 2005, only to succumb to hothead Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Recently Rafsanjani gained a reputation for his aggressive challenge against Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, while playing the role model for Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s so-called “moderate” president.

Of course, Rafsanjani was definitely considered part and parcel to the religious establishment in Iran, bearing in mind his special ties to regime founder Ruhollah Khomeini, who died back in 1989. However, appeasement advocates in the West dubbed him as a “pragmatic conservative” willing to work with the outside world, especially the “Great Satan.”

While Rafsanjani’s power diminished noticeably in recent years, he continued to enjoy a final post as chief of the Expediency Council, assigned to seemingly resolve disputes between the Guardian Council and parliament. The former is an ultra-conservative body closely knitted to Khamenei and known to screen all electoral candidates according to their loyalty to the regime establishment.

Rafsanjani sought last to take part in the 2013 presidential elections as a “reformist,” only to be disqualified by the Guardian Council. Angered at being purged, Rafsanjani lashed back by criticizing the measure as ill-informed.

Parallel to his rivalry with the Supreme Leader, Rafsanjani went on to place his weight behind Rouhani in 2013 when the latter assumed authority as president.

Alongside his political campaign, in the past decades Rafsanjani also used his post to slice his entire family an economic fortune from the country’s organs and natural resources.

“One brother headed the country’s largest copper mine; another took control of the state-owned TV network; a brother-in-law became governor of Kerman province, while a cousin runs an outfit that dominates Iran’s $400 million pistachio export business; a nephew and one of Rafsanjani’s sons took key positions in the Ministry of Oil; another son heads the Tehran Metro construction project (an estimated $700 million spent so far),” states a 2003 Forbes analysis.

The report also mentions billions stashed by the Rafsanjanis in overseas bank accounts.

“Some of the family’s wealth is out there for all to see. Rafsanjani’s youngest son, Yaser, owns a 30-acre horse farm in the super-fashionable Lavasan neighborhood of north Tehran, where land goes for over $4 million an acre. Just where did Yaser get his money? A Belgian-educated businessman, he runs a large export-import firm that includes baby food, bottled water and industrial machinery.”

Despite canvasing as a reasonable negotiator to the West, Rafsanjani was in fact shoulder to shoulder with his “hardline” partners in quelling dissident voices, specifically members and supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the leading opposition group gaining reputation after being the first to blow the whistle on Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program.

“Four rulings are a must for the [PMOI]: 1. Be killed; 2. Be hanged; 3. Arms and legs be amputated; 4. Be separated from society,” Rafsanjani said back in 1981. He also played a dominant role in the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners in jails across the country.

As president, Rafsanjani supervised a slate of dissident assassinations abroad, such as renowned human rights advocate Dr. Kazem Rajavi, former Iranian ambassador to Italy Mohammad Hossein Naghdi and Iranian Kurdish leader Abdulrahman Ghassemlou.

Continuing this string of terrorist attacks, Rafsanjani has also been indicted for his part in the 1994 Buenos Aires AMIA bombing that left 85 killed and hundreds more wounded.

Rafsanjani has, through the past four decades, acted as the regime’s No. 2 figure and a balancing component, always preserving the regime’s higher interests. His death will considerably weaken the entire regime and spark major disturbances throughout the regime’s ranks and files. If the past is any sign of the possible road ahead, the mullahs will most probably resort to additional violence and the export of extremism, terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism to avert this latest crisis from escalating beyond control.