politics, history and the war on terror
Monday, July 19, 2004
Iran and 9-11 

Time Magazine states the 9-11 Commission's soon to be released report will link Iran with al Qaeda and also include possible ties between Iran and 9-11.

Next week's much anticipated final report by a bipartisan commission on the origins of the 9/11 attacks will contain new evidence of contacts between al-Qaeda and Iran—just weeks after the Administration has come under fire for overstating its claims of contacts between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

A senior U.S. official told TIME that the Commission has uncovered evidence suggesting that between eight and ten of the 14 "muscle" hijackers—that is, those involved in gaining control of the four 9/11 aircraft and subduing the crew and passengers—passed through Iran in the period from October 2000 to February 2001. Sources also tell TIME that Commission investigators found that Iran had a history of allowing al-Qaeda members to enter and exit Iran across the Afghan border. This practice dated back to October 2000, with Iranian officials issuing specific instructions to their border guards—in some cases not to put stamps in the passports of al-Qaeda personnel—and otherwise not harass them and to facilitate their travel across the frontier. The report does not, however, offer evidence that Iran was aware of the plans for the 9/11 attacks.

The senior official also told TIME that the report will note that Iranian officials approached the al-Qaeda leadership after the bombing of the USS Cole and proposed a collaborative relationship in future attacks on the U.S., but the offer was turned down by bin Laden because he did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia.

The Iran-al Qaeda contacts were discovered and presented to the Commissioners near the end of the bipartisan panel's more than year-long investigation into the sources and origins of the 9/11 attacks. Much of the new information about Iran came from al-Qaeda detainees interrogated by the U.S. government, including captured Yemeni al-Qaeda operative Waleed Mohammed bin Attash, who organized the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, and from as many as 100 separate electronic intelligence intercepts culled by analysts at the NSA. The findings were sent to the White House for review only this week. But Commission members have been hinting for weeks that their report would have some Iran surprises. As the 9/11 Commission's chairman, Thomas Kean, said in June, "We believe....that there were a lot more active contacts, frankly, with Iran and with Pakistan than there were with Iraq."

These findings follow a Commission staff report, released in June, which suggested that al-Qaeda may have collaborated with Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers, a key American military barracks in Saudi Arabia. Previously, the attack had been attributed only to Hezbollah, with Iranian support. A U.S. indictment of bin Laden filed in 1998 for the bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa said al-Qaeda "forged alliances . . . with the government of Iran and its associated terrorist group Hezbollah for the purpose of working together against their perceived common enemies in the West, particularly the United States." But the Commission comes to no firm conclusion on al-Qaeda's involvement in the Khobar disaster.

Since 9/11 the U.S. has held direct talks with Iran—and through intermediaries including Britain, Switzerland and Saudi Arabia—concerning the fate of scores of al-Qaeda that Iran has acknowledged are in the country, including an unspecified number of senior leaders, whom one senior U.S. official called al-Qaeda's "management council". The U.S. as well as the Saudis have unsuccessfully sought the repatriation of this group, which is widely thought to include Saad bin Laden, the son of Osama bin Laden, as well of other key al-Qaeda figures.

Iran’s involvement with international terrorism and direct involvement with al Qaeda should come as no surprise as Iran has been the epicenter for terrorism since the Khomeini revolution in 1979.  The sponsorship of Hezbollah, the A-Team of international terror, has positioned Iran as the premier terror broker of the world.

Like organized crime, organized terror has many links and contacts across differing organizations.  The reasons are practical; tools of the trade are shared amongst terror groups as they share common enemies, America and Western culture.  The political and ideological differences between Sunni and Shia, al Qaeda and Hezbollah are put aside to fight the Great Satan and problems are left to be hammered out at a later date.  Hezbollah’s resources, finances, infrastructure, training, international contacts and global reach are second to none.  It is inevitable that other terror groups would ally themselves with Hezbollah in order to take advantage of its vast assets.

Iran’s established links to terror, possible connection to 9-11 and al Qaeda, support of the Iraqi insurgency and sponsorship of terror attacks on coalition troops, and its pursuit of its nuclear program in violation of international agreements places it as the prime candidate for the next target in the War on Terror. America is well positioned to address Iran militarily if the need arises, with troops stationed in Iraq to the west, Afghanistan to the east and the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean to the south. The question that begs to be answered is what does America do about this? As the U.S. is in the middle of a hotly contested election cycle, there is little chance Iran will be addressed by military action prior to Election Day. Any actions against Iran would be decried by the Left as warmongering, political posturing and an attempt to deflect attention from a host of international and domestic issues during the election season.  It is the sad reality we face in today’s polarized political environment, but here we are.

As Iran has now moved to the forefront in the War on Terror, Senator Kerry should answer some specific questions pertaining to his views and policies concerning Iran. Does he view Iran as a terror-sponsoring nation? Should terror-sponsoring nations be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons or other forms of WMD? If elected, would President Kerry be willing to use force against Iran if needed? Would he allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons? Would he be willing to act against Iran without ironclad evidence, the “smoking gun”, which has practically become a political necessity to act against nations deemed a threat? What would he do if the international community (the United Nations, NATO, the European Union) failed to support action against Iran? Would he move forward without international approval, building a coalition of the willing to remove the Iranian threat? 

Senator Kerry’s history in the U.S. Senate leaves many questions about his commitment to fight tyranny, terrorism and terror-sponsoring nations. In the past, he has voted against numerous defense systems currently being used to prosecute the War on Terror, such as the M1 Abrahms tank, the Apache helicopter, the B-2 bomber and a host of other programs vital to America’s defense. He voted against the removal of Saddam’s army from Kuwait in 1991 and also voted to cut intelligence funding during the 1990s. Senator Kerry’s actions during Operation Iraqi Freedom do not provide clarity to how he would act regarding Iran. His statements prior to the war indicated he deemed Iraq a direct threat, including the declaration that Iraq possessed WMD, and he voted in approval of the war resolution. Yet after the conclusion of the liberation of Iraq, he belittled President Bush’s motivations and the necessity to go to war.  He also voted against the bill to fund U.S. troops in Iraq. He has been highly critical of U.S. intelligence that lead up to the war, despite the fact that he was a member of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee in the past and was privy to the same intelligence as the Bush administration. His solution to the problems in Iraq can be boiled down to asking the international community for more assistance.

President Bush’s record fighting terrorism the past 3 years leaves little doubt about his political will to act when a threat is deemed great enough to our national security. And the labeling of Iran as a member of the Axis of Evil demonstrates he understood early on the dangers this nation posed to our security. President Bush has vowed to hold accountable terrorists organizations and states that shelter or sponsor them, and his actions against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate he has the fortitude to carry out his vision of defending America by attacking terror states, limiting the spread of WMD, working with allies to strengthen alliances and preempting nations that threaten American security. This strategy is outlined in the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States of America.

The 9-11 Commission’s report will force the question of Iranian involvement in 9-11 to the forefront of the foreign policy debate (or at least it should). The report will also reintroduce the opposing views between Republicans and Democrats on how to properly fight the War on Terror. Should the war be confined to al Qaeda alone?  Was the war over after we defeated the Taliban, and the only remaining actions left are law enforcement related? How do you deal with terror-sponsoring nations such as Iran? What is the standard of evidence that is needed to attack a nation suspected of aiding international terrorist? How far should the United States defer to international organizations before it decides it must act, alone if necessary, to deal with a nation it deems a threat?

The American people have a right to know how the next president will act against nations implicated in attacks on America as well as nations that support terrorists. Iran’s involvement in 9-11 may spur the debate. But at some point, the debate must end and a decision must be made. The next president must act against Iran by demanding the release of al Qaeda members and Iranian officials involved with 9-11 to American custody, demanding the complete disbandment of Hezbollah and an accounting of its international operations, and insisting on the complete dismantlement of the Iranian nuclear program with full verification. Absent of these actions by Iran (Iran is highly unlikely to comply with these demands), America must support domestic Iranian opposition to the theocratic regime and prepare for military strikes on Iran’s nuclear programs, as well as prepare for the possible overthrow of the Iranian government by American force. This is no small task; it requires a president to possess the will to stand up to domestic and international condemnation and the fortitude to see his vision through. Iran will be the most difficult problem we will face in the War on Terror.

President Bush has articulated his vision and demonstrated his commitment to act against terrorists and the nations that sponsor them. What is Senator Kerry’s vision?  How would he answer the questions outlined above? The prosecution of the War on Terror is the most important issue in the 2004 Presidential election, and these questions have not been addressed by Senator Kerry. We are waiting.

Posted by bill roggio @ 10:00 PM