Since the September 11 attacks, Western officials have spent considerable time courting Iran and Syria two nations listed by Washington as state supporters of terrorism. A procession of officials, the most prominent among them being British Prime Minister Tony Blair, have traveled to Damascus and Tehran in an effort to persuade the local regimes to enlist in the fight against Osama bin Laden’s terror network. While it would be swell if Syria and Iran were to abandon their anti-Western radicalism, there is good reason to be skeptical. In fact, a compelling case can be made that, having largely decimated the Taliban in seven weeks, President Bush and Mr. Blair should turn their attention to state supporters of terror like Syria and Iran, as they now appear to be doing with Iraqi boss Saddam Hussein.
Both Iran and Syria have longstanding ties with the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, which claimed “credit” for the April 1983 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut, which killed 63 persons, the October 1983 suicide bombing of U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon, in which 241 Americans died, and scores of other killings of Americans in the Middle East. Without continued Iranian and Syrian-arranged weapons deliveries, Hezbollah would be unable to continue staging attacks on Israel from Lebanon.
Iran, Syria and their terrorist proxies like Hezbollah have shown the ability to put aside religious and doctrinal differences with bin Laden’s al Qaeda in order to attack the United States and Israel. The unsealed portion of the U.S. government’s 1998 indictment against bin Laden for the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa that year states that “Al Qaeda also forged alliances with the National Islamic Front in Sudan, and with representatives of the government of Iran, and its associated terrorist group Hezbollah, for the purpose of working together against their perceived common enemies in the West, particularly the United States.” In pleading guilty last year to participating in a terrorist conspiracy in the embassy bombings, Ali Mohammed explained that he had arranged meetings between bin Laden and Hezbollah security boss Imad Mugniyeh, who helped plan the Marine barracks bombing and other Hezbollah attacks on Americans.
Fox News reported Sept. 16 that, earlier this year, 400 representatives of al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and other radical groups held meetings in Tehran and Syrian-occupied Beirut, where they vowed to wage a jihad to “liberate” Jerusalem from Israel. The groups denounced U.S. involvement in the Middle East, declaring that “America is a second Israel.”
Even more ominous is a report by veteran investigative journalist Kenneth Timmerman in the Dec. 3 issue of Insight magazine. According to Mr. Timmerman, a former Iranian-government intelligence official claims to have informed the FBI in early September of an Iranian plot to crash civilian jumbo jets into the World Trade Center and government buildings. A key element of the plot was the use of Arab “muscle men” to hijack the planes and subdue the passengers. The FBI claims it didn’t receive the defector’s warning until after September 11.
But Iranian defectors have been warning for years that Tehran was prepared to use non-Iranian Muslims to carry out terrorist attacks. (Indeed, Washington is seeking the extradition of a Saudi national who headed the Iranian-backed radical group Saudi Hezbollah in connection with the 1996 bombing that killed 19 U.S. servicemen at Dhahran.) “It provides them deniability,” a U.S. investigator told Insight. “If you are the government of Iran, you don’t want to leave fingerprints that could tie you to these attacks. Unlike bin Laden, you’ve got real assets that can be targeted and destroyed.” In short, any investigation of September 11 will be incomplete without a serious and thorough effort to determine whether Iran and/or Syria played a role. If they did, the consequences should be severe indeed.