Iran policy: Al Qaeda could trigger war with Iran

Following revelations of a George W Bush administration policy to hold Iran responsible for any Al Qaeda attack on the US that could be portrayed as planned on Iranian soil, former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinksi warned last week that Washington might use such an incident as a pretext to bomb Iran.

Brzezinski, the national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter from 1977 through 1980 and the most senior Democratic Party figure on national security policy, told a private meeting sponsored by the non-partisan Committee for the Republic in Washington May 30 that an Al Qaeda terrorist attack in the US intended to provoke war between the US and Iran was a possibility that must be taken seriously, and that the Bush administration might accuse Iran of responsibility for such an attack and use it to justify carrying out an attack on Iran.

Brzezinski suggested that new constraints were needed on presidential war powers to reduce the risk of a war against Iran based on such a false pretence. Such constraints, Brzezinski said, should not prevent the president from using force in response to an attack on the US, but should make it more difficult to carry out an attack without an adequate justification.

Brzezinski’s warning came after Fox News’ chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle reported on “Special Report with Brit Hume” May 14 that, according to unnamed US official sources, US officials had urged Iran in two face-to-face meetings to deport the terrorists to their countries of origin, told them about Al Qaeda efforts to get a nuclear device, and “warned that if any terrorist attack against Americans were to come from Iranian territory, it would be held responsible.”

Angle quoted a former official as saying that Iran “understood how bad it would be...if there were another terrorist attack and it was learned it had been planned in Iran.” Former CIA director George Tenet wrote in his recently-published memoirs that US intelligence had learned by early 2003 that a senior Al Qaeda operative who had been detained in Iran was in charge of the organisation’s efforts to obtain nuclear weapons. Tenet said that information was passed on to Iranians “in the hope that they would recognise our common interest in preventing any attack against US interests.”

The Bush administration has made persistent claims over the past five years that Iran has harboured Al Qaeda operatives who had fled from Afghanistan and that they had participated in planning terrorist actions — claims that were not supported by intelligence analysts. Pentagon officials leaked information to CBS in May 2003 that they had “evidence” that Al Qaeda leaders who had found “safe haven” in Iran had planned and directed terrorist operations in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Then Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld also encouraged that inference when he declared on May 29, 2003 that Iran had “permitted senior Al Qaeda officials to operate in their country.” The leak and public statement allowed the media and their audiences to infer that the “safe haven” had been deliberately provided by Iranian authorities.

But most US intelligence analysts specialising on the Persian Gulf believed the Al Qaeda officials in Iran who were still communicating with operatives elsewhere were in hiding rather than under arrest. Former national intelligence officer for Near East and South Asia Paul Pillar said last year that the “general impression” was that the Al Qaeda operatives were not in Iran with the complicity of the Iranian authorities.

The strategy of portraying Iran as having links with Al Qaeda was being pushed by an unidentified Bush adviser who had been “instrumental in coming up with a more confrontational US approach to Iran,” according a report by The Washington Post’s Dafna Linzer on Feb. 10.

The danger of an Al Qaeda effort to disguise an attack on the US as coming from Iran was also raised in an article in Foreign Affairs published in late April by former NSC adviser and counterterrorism expert Bruce Reidel. In the article, Reidel wrote that Osama bin Laden may have plans for “triggering an all-out war between the US and Iran,” referring to evidence that Al Qaeda in Iraq now considers Iranian influence in Iraq “an even greater problem than the US occupation”. Reidel, notably, served in the 1990s as national intelligence officer, assistant secretary of defence and NSC specialist for Near East and South Asia.

Supporting the warnings by Brzezinski and Reidel about an Al Qaeda “false flag” terrorist attack is a captured Al Qaeda document found in a hideout of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq in 2006. The document, translated and released by the Iraqi National Security Adviser Mouwafek al-Rubaie, said “the best solution in order to get out of this crisis is to involve the US forces in waging a war against another country or any hostile groups”. The document explained, “We mean specifically attempting to escalate tension between America and Iran, and America and the Shiite[s] in Iraq.” —IPS