Sunday, July 25, 2004

Iran linked to 9/11?

July 25 2004

Iran linked to 9/11?


The US has set Iran in its gunsights for "regime change" and Tehran would be hard pressed escape the trap. That is what has emerged from the US independent commission's finding that Iran had allowed eight to 10 of the Sept.11 suicide hijackers to pass through its territory months before the actual assaults and made sure their passports were not stamped with any record of the transit.
American pundits on both sides of the fence — those who opposed and favoured the war on Iraq — are now arguing that the US targeted the wrong country for regime change since the report indicates that Tehran was closer to Al Qaeda than Baghdad.
According to the commission, intelligence findings show that the Iranian government had instructed its border posts not to stamp the passports of Al Qaeda members from Saudi Arabia who were passing through Iran after training at Osama Bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan.
Al Qaeda operatives had freedom to cross between the two countries without any hindrance, the report asserts.
If the hijackers had Iranian entry stamp on passport they would have been subjected to strict questioning at any port of entry to the US and probably turned away.
The commission said that Osama Bin Laden's "representatives and Iranian officials had discussed putting aside Shiite-Sunni divisions to co-operate against the common enemy" and that a small group of A Qaeda members "subsequently travelled to Iran and Hizbollah camps in Lebanon for training in explosives, intelligence and security."
Iran has not denied the possibility that the suicide skyjackers passed through its territory and has cited in its defence the commission's finding that there was no evidence that Tehran was a party to the Sept.11 assaults or had known about them in advance.
Tehran has also rejected as unfounded American charges that it is sheltering Al Qaeda and Taliban fugitives who fled Afghanistan when the US invaded that country in late 2001 and that they include eight prominent Al Qaeda and Taliban figures remain in Iran, including Osama Bin Laden's son Saad and Saif Al Adel, once Al Qaeda's security chief.
They are supposedly kept under "protective custody" and it is thought that Iran might use them as pawns in dealings with the US.
The next scenario is predictable: US intelligence agencies coming up with evidence suggesting that Iran did know of Al Qaeda plans and was working in cahoots with Osama Bin Laden's group. It would take some time, but it is definitely coming.
There is already a move in Congress to produce legislation backing “regime change” in Iran.
US President George W. Bush, who labelled Iran part of an "exis of evil" along with Iraq and North Korea, has vowed that he is committed to regime change in Tehran would orchestrate it if he is re-elected in November. That is a very calculated statement. One could expect more "revelations" of the purported Iranian-Qaeda links in the months in the run-up to the first Tuesday of November when the Americans go to the polls but little action on the ground until then except stepped up pressure on Tehran.
That is what Bush meant when he said last week: "We will continue to look and see if the Iranians were involved (in the Sept.11 attacks)… As to direct connections with Sept. 11, we’re digging into the facts to determine if there was one.”

Thorn on the side

Following the ouster of Saddam Hussein, the next thorn on the American and Israeli sides is indeed Iran, whose theocratic leadership refuses to accept American domination of the region and continues to pose a hurdle to Washington's drive for absolutely unchallenged supremacy.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his neo-conservative allies in Washington have been calling for "regime change" in Iran after Iraq.
Israel, which says it fears Iran is developing nuclear weapons that could be used against the Jewish state, is no doubt planning how to "take out" Iran's nuclear facilities. One of more Israeli submarines equipped with long-range missiles capable of hitting Iran's nuclear plants on the Gulf coast as well as deep inside the country are already patrolling the waters of the Arabian Sea.
But simply destroying Iran's nuclear facilities would not be enough for the US to remove the challenge it faces from Tehran. It needs to replace the theocrats in power with an "American-friendly" regime like the interim government it has installed in Baghdad.
The new regime in Tehran, under the American plans, will allow the US military to set up bases in Iran, abandon all ambitions to acquire nuclear weapons, reform its Islam, recognise Israel and will agree to be a US-Israeli dictated solution to the Middle East conflict.
However, a military approach along the lines of the Iraq invasion is not in the cards. After all, Iran is five times larger than Iraq and has 65 million people compared with 25 million Iraqis.
The Bush administration has already set the ground for the best option: Create internal troubles for the regime, build them up and turn them into an uprising against the government. Simultaneously, the US could intervene militarily to support the internal dissidents and finish the job of removing the regime from power.
Obviously, Washington strategists are betting that Iranian youth and students are discontented with the regime, which gives Muslim clerics too much influence over their lives, and the right assurances to them that the US is behind them in their drive to get rid of the mullahs would convince them to stage an uprising.
Towards this end, a US-based group of Iranians, including the son of the toppled Shah Pehlavi, has launched radio and television broadcasts aimed to incite the Iranians against the regime and American and allied agents are said to have penetrate Iranian groups inside the country.
Washington has also enlisted the help of Hossein Khomeini, grandson of the late Iranian patriarch, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Hossein Khomeini, who smuggled himself into Iraq and then visited the US without official approval before returning home last year, openly said he would favour an American military invasion of his country aimed at changing the clerical regime. He is said to have been placed under tight restrictions at home after his return home.
Hard-liners in the Bush camp who orchestrated the war against Iraq are sure to seize upon the Sept.11 commission's report and further strengthen the case of regime change for Iran In any event, Iran has emerged as a key behind-the-scene player in the invasion of Iraq. It is believed to have played a key role in creating "evidence" of weapons of mass destruction and fed it to anti-Saddam Ahmed Chalabi, who in turn furnished it to US intelligence agencies as well as the New York Times to build the case for war against Iraq.
(Chalabi is also accused of spying for Iran and tipping them off that US intelligence agencies were listening in to telephone conversations of Iranian leaders and notable others. That is deemed to have dealt a serious blow to American intelligence gathering on Iran).

'Natural course'

Since the US set the Taliban and Al Qaeda in its military sights following the Sept.11 attacks and fingered Iraq immediately after invading Afghanistan., it was clear that Iran and Syria were also listed for "regime change" although not necessarily in that order.
It is no coincidence that the next two US targets in the Middle East, Syria and Iran, are also among the most vocal against Israel just as Iraq under Saddam was. It is not simply a matter of convenience for the US that fundamental changes are made in these countries to remove the challenge to Israel if not to better suit the interests of Washington's sole "strategic ally" in the Middle East; it is indeed a policy objective just as the ouster of Saddam was.
Washington flirted with Syria in the early 90s because it suited US interests to do so but now Damascus has become more of a liability than an asset only because it insists on its rights and represents the toughest of all Arab parties on whom Israel wants to impose its version of peace.
Similarly, the US hoped it could do business with Iran when "moderate" Mohammed Khatami was elected president in 1997. However, those hopes failed to materialise in view of the "hard-line" religious establishment's grip on power on a parallel track with that of the government but with overriding authority.
Now that Khatami would soon step down after serving two terms, the US has little hopes that another "moderate" might take his place, and hence the recent posture that Washington had "given up" on Khatami.
Under the American view, the religious establishment's constitutional authority is too deep-rooted to be pried away through conventional political means adopted by political forces within the country. Again, in the US eyes, a "regime change" aiming at destroying the religious leaders' power is the order of the day in Iran.
Iran's support for Lebanon's Hizbollah and Palestinian groups is a constant source of concern for Israel, and, by extension, the US. Further compounding the concern are the advances that Iran has reportedly made in developing long-range missiles which could hit Israel, its acquisition of two Russian submarines and the ongoing construction of a nuclear power plant on the Gulf coast and the existence of two other nuclear facilities inland.

Bush's options

The revelations of the alleged Tehran-Qaeda collaboration places the Bush administration in a fresh bind. The link is far more firm than the discredited American claim that a senior Iraqi diplomat had met the leader of the Sept.11 suicide hijackers in Europe a few months before the air assaults in New York and Washington.
In recent months, the Washington strategists appeared to have set the Iranian file aside, focusing instead on ensuring that Bush wins re-election in November. However, they ensured that Tehran remained under international pressure by citing its alleged quest to develop nuclear weapons.
Furthermore, the Bush administration would not undertake another military adventure at this juncture, given the worsening crisis in post-Saddam Iraq and the growing belief among Americans that they were misled by their president and his aides into accepting military action against that country.
Obviously the purported Iran-Qaeda links would be sued to tighten the case against Iran — and also somehow dragging in Syria —  but stopping short of any action that would have a negative impact on his already sagging prospects for re-election. Action will come only if the American people find him fit for another four years at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but what that would be is anyone's guess.