“U.S. accuses Iran of aiding al-Qaeda,” screams the headline in the Washington Post.
The editors of the Wall Street Journal clearly take satisfaction with the Treasury Department’s announcement that it has exposed a “secret deal” between Iran and al Qaeda:
The Obama Administration has come a long way since the days when it thought it could strike a “grand bargain” with Iran’s mullahs, and yesterday’s move is another good step. Above all, it’s a reminder of why a regime that has no qualms serving as al Qaeda’s facilitator can on no account be permitted to build a nuclear bomb.
But if the presence of an al Qaeda network in Iran implies the complicity of the Iranian government, by the same logic the governments of Kuwait and Qatar — where the same network operates — may also be complicit. And since the US has military bases in both those countries can we not also say that this network is operating under American eyes too?
No doubt the administration’s decision to highlight a Qaeda-Iran connection will please quite a few would-be 2012 presidential campaign contributors, in particular those who share Benjamin Netanyahu’s view that Iran presents an existential threat to Israel.
Paul Pillar writes:
The Treasury Department on Thursday formally designated six members of what it described as “an al-Qa’ida network” under the terms of Executive Order 13224, a designation that has implications regarding the freezing of the individuals’ assets and prohibition of any commercial or financial dealings with them. Such designations have nothing directly to do with states, but there was an additional angle in Treasury’s announcement. The heading of the department’s press release was, “Treasury Targets Key Al-Qa’ida Funding and Support Network Using Iran as a Critical Transit Point”. Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen was quoted as stating, “By exposing Iran’s secret deal with al-Qa’ida allowing it to funnel funds and operatives through its territory, we are illuminating yet another aspect of Iran’s unmatched support for terrorism.”
Whoa—“secret deal”? That’s certainly an eye-catching phrase. It has been known for some time that al-Qa’ida members have been inside Iran. It has been less clear just what the terms of their residence there have been. Most indications suggest that it has been something between imprisonment and house arrest. At least some of the al-Qa’ida people in Iran have been able to conduct business of the group from there, but it is unclear again how much of this business is condoned or even known by the Iranian regime. Probably the most that can be said is that the regime, or elements within it, have reasons to have some dealings with the al-Qa’ida members, notwithstanding the sharp differences in their objectives. Tehran wants to cement and sustain the rule of the Shia Islamic Republic; al-Qa’ida wants to overthrow the established order in the Middle East and establish a Sunni Caliphate.
Despite the provocative phrase “secret deal,” Treasury’s announcement says nothing else about any such agreement. The only dealings it describes all seem to have to do with the imprisonment of al-Qa’ida members. Only one of the six designated individuals, named Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, is described as “Iran-based”; the other five all live and operate somewhere else and are included in the announcement because they are part of the same network as Khalil. The one bit of business Khalil is said to have with Tehran is that he “works with the Iranian government to arrange releases of al-Qa’ida personnel from Iranian prisons.” One of the other five is said to have “petitioned Iranian officials on al-Qa’ida’s behalf to release operatives detained in Iran”—with no indication whether he succeeded. Any connection between the Iranian regime and the group’s other activities involving movement of money and operatives is all a matter of innuendo, at least as far as Treasury’s announcement is concerned.