Symposium: Hitting Iran?

By Jamie Glazov

Michael A. Ledeen, a resident scholar at the American Enterprises Institute and a contributor to The Wall Street Journal. He is the author of Machiavelli on Modern Leadership and Tocqueville on American Character. His new book is The Iranian Time Bomb: The Mullah Zealots’ Quest for Destruction.Is it high time for a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclearfacilities? A distinguished panel has joined us today to discuss this issue. Our guests are:

Rohan Gunaratna, the author of Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror. He is Head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies in Singapore.

Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney, the co-author with Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely of Endgame: The Blueprint for Victory in the War on Terror. He is a retired Air Force Fighter Pilot who has been a Fox News Military Analyst for the last four and a half years and continues to appear regularly on Fox.

Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest ranking intelligence official ever to have defected from the Soviet bloc. In 1989, Romania’s president Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife were executed at the end of a trial where most of the accusations had come word-for-word out of Pacepa’s book, Red Horizons, republished in 27 countries. Pacepa’s newest book is Programmed to Kill: Lee Harvey Oswald, the Soviet KGB, and the Kennedy Assassination.

Steve Schippert, co-founder of the Center for Threat Awareness and managing editor for ThreatsWatch.org.


Thomas Joscelyn, an expert on the international terrorist network. He has written extensively on al Qaeda and its allies, including Iran. He is the author, most recently, of Iran’s Proxy War Against America, a booklet published by the Claremont Institute and available for download at its web site. (Click here to download the booklet.)

FP: Steve Schippert, Thomas Joscelyn, Michael A. Ledeen, Rohan Gunaratna, Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney and Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.

Rohan Gunaratna, let’s begin with you. The evidence suggests that negotiations with Tehran have failed and that there is no alternative but for the U.S. to launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Do you concur?

Gunaratna: Attacking Iran will be much more devastating for the United States than attacking Iraq.

Iran will retaliate with strikes against US targets both in the US mainland and overseas. Furthermore, Iran is next door to Afghanistan and to Iraq, the two most important theatres of conflict for the US and the West.

Iran is holding over 100 Al Qaeda leaders, members and their families in detention. This includes Saif al Adel, head of security and intelligence, Abu Hafs al Mauritani, head of the fatwa committee, Abdel Aziz al Masri, head of WMD committee, and Abu Mohamed al Masri, the head of the training committee and other prominent and capable leaders. This includes Saad bin Laden, the son of Osama and two of his wives and other significant figures very close to the Al Qaeda leader such as Abu Khyer al Masri, Al Qaeda’s key negotiator with Iran. The quality of Al Qaeda members in detention in Iran is much higher than those operating in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas that run along the Pakistan-Afghan border). Iran is likely to release these leaders, members and family members with arms, explosives and finances to strike the US and its Allies.

The US must refrain from over-reacting. There are many methods to subdue an adversary without attacking him.

FP: Thank you Dr. Gunaratna. I just want to follow up with you for a moment and hopefully you can crystallize a few things.

Scholars such as Thomas Joscelyn have documented that Iran has been waging war on us for a long time and part of this war has involved Iran’s cooperation with Al Qaeda. Why is Iran holding Al Qaeda leaders in detention when Al Qaeda serves the interests of Iran in terms of doing damage to the “Great Satan”? And if Iran could hurt the U.S. by exploiting these leaders and releasing them etc., surely it would have already done so, no? If not, why hasn’t it done so?

More than anything else, what sense does it make for us not to provoke a country that has long ago declared war on us and that is hurting us, and is also planning to hurt us more – and God knows in what horrible way?

Gunaratna: Yes, Iran has been working against the U.S.

However, since the rise of the Taliban in 1996, Iran has not sponsored Al Qaeda and its associated groups. Iran has sponsored Shia groups – Lebanese Hezbollah globally and Jaysh-e- Madhi in Iraq – and the Sunni Palestianian groups – Hamas, PIJ, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.

Iranian intelligence services – MOIS and IRGC – are anti-US.

We have seen no evidence of direct Iranian sponsorship of Al Qaeda or its associated groups. Iran is fully aware of the dangers of supporting Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda in Iraq. Both these groups may one day attack Iran and its interests.

FP: Thomas Joscelyn, what do you make of Dr. Gunaratna’s take on hitting Iran in general and on Iran and Al Qaeda in particular?

Joscelyn: I have great respect for Dr. Gunaratna’s work and I think that his book Inside Al Qaeda is one of the best books written about al Qaeda, despite a few areas where I disagree with his analysis. In terms of understanding how al Qaeda was structured prior to 9/11 and how the terror network operates, Dr. Gunaratna’s work has been invaluable.

However, I am more than a little puzzled by his claim that “since the rise of the Taliban in 1996, Iran has not sponsored Al Qaeda and its associated groups.” Rohan himself wrote in Inside Al Qaeda: “Iran received nearly 10 percent of Osama’s outgoing calls from Afghanistan from mid-1996 to 1998, suggesting that Iran was maintaining a relationship with Al Qaeda even after he developed close ties with the Taliban in Afghanistan, a regime unfriendly toward Tehran.” Indeed, the 9/11 Commission reached the same conclusion, noting: “Intelligence indicates the persistence of contacts between Iranian security officials and senior al Qaeda figures after Bin Laden’s return to Afghanistan [in 1996].”

The 9/11 Commission noted that there is evidence that al Qaeda may have played a junior role in Hezbollah’s and Iran’s bombing of the Khober Towers complex in Saudi Arabia in June 1996. In Gerald Posner’s Why America Slept, we learn that just days before the Khober Towers attack, Tehran hosted a summit of international terrorists, including key al Qaeda figures. According to Posner’s well-placed source, the CIA received reporting on what went on during the terror conference and learned that al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Iran agreed to step up attacks against American targets throughout the Middle

East. In See No Evil, Bob Baer tells us that the CIA learned how Hezbollah’s and Iran’s master terrorist, Imad Mugniyah, had been in contact with al Qaeda’s Egyptian ally, the Islamic Group, in 1996. Baer further explains that prior to leaving the CIA in 1997, he and his colleagues had learned that Bin Laden approached the Iranians about putting aside their conflict with central Asian governments such as the Taliban in order to focus strictly on working against the Americans. The Iranians and the Taliban remained at each others’ throats, of course, but this did not stop al Qaeda and Iran from continuing to work together.

Iran and Hezbollah definitely played a large role in al Qaeda’s August 7, 1998, bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The attacks were modeled after Hezbollah’s most successful simultaneous suicide bombings of American targets in Lebanon in 1983. Indeed, as Dr. Gunaratna correctly notes in Inside Al Qaeda, and as was explained by two al Qaeda terrorists who testified during the trial of some of the terrorists responsible for the embassy bombings, and as was noted by the 9/11 Commission, at least some of the al Qaeda terrorists responsible for the bombings were trained for the operation in Hezbollah’s camps. Dr. Gunaratna writes in Inside Al Qaeda: “In addition to developing this capability [to attack targets simultaneously with suicide bombers] with Iranian assistance, Al Qaeda also received a large amount of explosives from Iran that were used in the bombing of the East African targets [the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania].” A senior U.S. Intelligence official has confirmed Gunaratna’s claim for me. The U.S. Intelligence Community did, in fact, receive reporting that Iran had provided al Qaeda with explosives used in the attack. Following the U.S. led invasion of Afghanistan, Iran gave safe haven to Saif al-Adel, one of the senior al Qaeda terrorists wanted for his involvement in the embassy bombings and a number of other attacks. According to one of his fellow al Qaeda terrorists, al-Adel was one of the bin Laden operatives who received Hezbollah’s training for the embassy bombings.

The aforementioned training did take place, by and large, in the early 1990’s. That is, the training took place prior to 1996. But there are plenty of other threads of evidence connecting Iran to al Qaeda’s terror right through the present. The 9/11 Commission even left open the possibility that Iran and Hezbollah gave al Qaeda a helping hand in the September 11 attacks. The 9/11 Commission called for a further investigation into this matter, but more than three years later no such investigation has been launched.

There is extensive evidence that Iran helped al Qaeda and Taliban operatives flee Afghanistan in late 2001. At least several well-sourced press reports have noted the convoys of al Qaeda and Taliban operatives who fled across the Iranian border in order to escape American justice. Even Richard Clarke noted in his book Against All Enemies: “There is, of course, evidence that Iran provided al Qaeda safe haven before and after September 11.” And the al Qaeda operatives living in Iran post-9/11 have remained active. Intelligence officials have tied some of the more senior terrorists in their ranks to attacks in Tunisia, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia, among other locations.

This is just some of the evidence available regarding Iran’s ongoing support for al Qaeda. It did not end in 1996. The evidence indicates quite the opposite, in fact.

I also disagree with Dr. Gunaratna’s suggestion that “Iran is holding over 100 Al Qaeda leaders, members and their families in detention.” It is true that the al Qaeda terrorists are there, but I disagree with the notion that they are under any meaningful form of “detention.” Saif al-Adel, the senior al Qaeda terrorist wanted for his role in the embassy bombings and who is currently in Iran, has been working with the Iranians since the early 1990’s. He and his fellow terrorists are housed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which has had an active relationship with al Qaeda since bin Laden’s days in Sudan. In my view, al Qaeda’s safe haven in Iran is just an extension of their long-standing relationship.

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