Tags: Iranian | Support | Terror | War | Debated

Iranian Support in Terror War Debated

Thursday, 28 November 2002 12:00 AM

Iraq and dictator Saddam Hussein have long been a thorn in the side of Iran, which suffered large casualties during its eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s. But are memories of that costly war, and Saddam's secular regime, enough to cause Iran to secretly side with the United States?

Opinion is mixed on that question, with researchers and analysts divided on whether Iran - a member of President Bush's 'Axis of Evil' triumvirate - might become a key ally in the Middle East.

Mansoor Ijaz, chairman of The Crescent Partnerships, noted terrorism analyst and commentator known for his contacts inside Iran, claims Tehran is offering assistance through back channels, in part because of the current geopolitical landscape.

"The Iranian hierarchy knows that the Bush administration is dead serious about Iraq and the war on terror in general," said Ijaz. "The mullahs and ayatollahs in Iran don't want to be next."

According to Ijaz, Iran has already provided assistance in the war, working through American allies in Europe.

"A very senior Iranian intelligence official recently visited Germany, Belgium and Holland, and provided some fairly helpful intelligence to those nations on the al Qaeda sleeper cells known to be there," Ijaz said.

"The Iranians have been very helpful in confirming the location and identification of al Qaeda operatives throughout the group's framework, including information about Ayman al-Zawahiri's visit to Indonesia shortly before the attacks of 9-11," Ijaz said.

Zawahiri is the founder of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad terrorist group and is believed to be the personal physician to Osama bin Laden. An Egyptian thought to have at least 13 aliases, Zawahiri is under indictment in the U.S. for his involvement in the 1998 al Qaeda attacks on the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. The U.S. has placed a $25 million bounty on al-Zawahiri.

But not all analysts are in agreement on whether Iran has helped track down suspected terrorists.

Dr. Michael Ledeen, author of The War Against the Terror Masters and Freedom Chair scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C., said Iran's role in the Middle East - particularly as it involves Iraq - is quite the opposite of what Ijaz concludes.

"Any assistance Iran is said to be providing to the United States is a deception," Ledeen said. "Iran is actively supporting Iraq, and they would attack the U.S. if we invade Iraq."

When pressed for details as to how Iran would conduct such an attack, Ledeen said, "They're not crazy. They would never try to take us on with their military. They will try to repeat in Iraq and elsewhere what they did to us in Beirut in the 1980s, using their terrorist organizations."

Iran's Hezbollah terrorist group successfully attacked the U.S. Embassy and Marine Amphibious Unit barracks in Beirut in 1983, resulting in hundreds killed.

Still others see a case for Iran joining forces with the U.S. even if there's no firm evidence of it at this time.

John Pike, director of the defense policy group Global Security, said, "I can understand that Iran is anxious to get off the target list, and the general proposition that Iran and the U.S. have the same dim view of Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction program is certainly plausible."

More than plausible, Pike considers the destruction of Iraq as a boon to neighboring Iran.

"It's definitely the case that there was no love lost between Iran and the Taliban," said Pike. "When you consider the idea of 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend,' one has to consider how Iran might see the U.S.'s blowing up Iraq as a reasonable means to an end."

Adding to the complexity of the situation is Iran's pursuit of nuclear power and relations with Israel.

Iran is building a nuclear power plant at Bushehr on the Persian Gulf, with fueling of the reactor tentatively scheduled for 2003.

Iran claims the International Atomic Energy Agency, a branch of the United Nations, will be able to effectively detect any attempt by Iran to reprocess the reactor's spent fuel into weapons-grade plutonium, but others wonder whether Israel might take action against the Iranian plant.

Israel destroyed a French-built Iraqi nuclear plant at Osirak in 1981, attacking with U.S.-made F-15 and F-16 jets.

According to a June 2002 issue of the Hebrew daily Ha'aretz , Israel's National Security Council is weighing Israel's options in dealing with the Iranian plant, and went so far as to quote one official insisting that the plant must never be allowed to come on line, and saying that "using force to prevent Tehran from achieving nuclear weapons capabilities" is an option on the table.

When asked about the future of Iran's active nuclear weapons development program, Pike pointed out that the Bush administration and Israel have a lot of diplomatic ground to cover.

According to Pike, the U.S. and Israel "have to get together within the next year to decide if the risk of diversion of spent fuel is sufficient to require taking pre-emptive action."

Given that Bush has raised the specter of war with Iraq because of its quest for nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, Pike said "we all heard President Bush when he spoke of pre-emptive action being the key to winning the war on terror. I think it's going to be a really close call as to intervention," in Iran.

This 'Iranian Problem,' as it is sometimes referred to in the State Department, has been percolating for more than 20 years, beginning in late 1979, when Shah Reza Mohammed Pahlavi abandoned the Peacock Throne.

Pahlavi's abdication came as Islamic hardliners rioted in the streets, demanding the dictator's removal and the creation of a fundamentalist Islamic state with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as the country's firebrand leader.

It was shortly after Pahlavi fled that Iranian terrorists sacked the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

The establishment of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard by Khomeini set the stage for the creation of Hezbollah, which continues to base its operations out of Lebanon, and which has carried out many of the attacks on Israeli citizens in recent months.

Although Iran's moderate cleric, Mohammed Khatemi, elected in 1997, expressed regret over the takeover of the U.S. Embassy and spoke positively about a hopeful thawing of U.S.-Iran relations later that year, the conservative clerics who remain the true power in Iran remain steadfast supporters of not only Hezbollah, according to the State Department.

Officials said that support extends to other terrorist groups, including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Gamaa Islamiya.


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Iraq and dictator Saddam Hussein have long been a thorn in the side of Iran, which suffered large casualties during its eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s. But are memories of that costly war, and Saddam's secular regime, enough to cause Iran to secretly side with the...
Thursday, 28 November 2002 12:00 AM
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