After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush drew a line in the sand. “Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make,” he said. “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”
Since then, some nations have fought with us, putting lives on the line. Some have offered moral support. But a few have aided and abetted the terrorists.
We distinguished among them. Until we didn’t.
For 37 years, under Republican and Democratic administrations alike, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been designated as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Tehran sponsors Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria and other countries, Shia militias in Iraq, Houthi rebels in Yemen, and Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza.
What about al Qaeda? In the early 1990s, Hezbollah trained al Qaeda operatives in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon.
In 1998, an indictment issued by a U.S. district court stated that al Qaeda had “forged alliances” with 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 2011, a federal judge in New York ruled that the Tehran regime had provided support for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
From 2011 to 2016, the Obama administration repeated in formal terrorist designations and other official statements that the Iranian regime had a “secret deal” with al Qaeda that allows the group to “to funnel funds and operatives through” Iranian territory.
Under President Obama, the Treasury and State Departments described this network inside Iran as al Qaeda’s “core facilitation pipeline,” identified its leader as Yasin al-Suri, who had been allowed by “Iranian authorities” to operate inside Iran since 2005. This month, the State Department revealed that he is still working inside Iran.
A letter written by Osama bin Laden, found by the Navy SEALS who killed him in 2011, included this: “Iran is our main artery for funds, personnel, and communication … There is no need to fight with Iran unless you are forced to.”
Another document seized during that raid, but not released until 2017, states that al Qaeda operatives in Iran were given “everything they needed,” including “money, arms” and “training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in exchange for striking American interests in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.”
Then, two months ago, it was revealed that Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, al Qaeda’s second-in-command, a planner of the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, had been living comfortably in Tehran, permitted to maintain a false identity as a Lebanese history professor. He was about to go somewhere in his car when assassins — presumably dispatched by Israel — ended his career.
Which raised a question: To what extent are Iran’s rulers currently enabling al Qaeda? Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo provided an answer.
For the past five years, he told reporters at the National Press Club, Iran’s rulers “have provided safe haven and logistical support — things like travel documents, ID cards, passports — that enable al Qaeda activity.”
AQ leaders in Iran also are allowed to “to fundraise, to freely communicate with al-Qaeda members around the world, and to perform many other functions that were previously directed from Afghanistan or Pakistan.”
He added: “As a result of this assistance, al Qaeda has centralized its leadership inside of Tehran.”
He named and announced sanctions on two such AQ leaders, and designated three members of an al Qaeda-linked group that, he said, operates on the border between Iran and Iraq.
Most media covered Mr. Pompeo’s remarks dismissively. The Associated Press told readers that “many in the intelligence community” found Mr. Pompeo’s charges regarding the Tehran-AQ link “overblown given a history of animosity between the two.”
The New York Times accused Mr. Pompeo of “demonizing Iran,” in order to make “any effort by Mr. Biden to resuscitate the Iran nuclear deal more difficult.”
And, of course, those who sympathize with Iran’s rulers were outraged. Jamal Abdi, president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), asserted that Mr. Pompeo has “leaked materials to the advocacy group Foundation for Defense of Democracies aimed at supporting the claim of Iran and al Qaeda ties.”
That’s false. Beginning in 2011, colleagues at FDD worked hard to persuade the U.S. government to declassify and release primary source documents retrieved from Osama bin Laden’s villa in Pakistan. Mr. Pompeo, as CIA director, did that in 2017.
These documents are key for understanding how al Qaeda operates — in Iran and many other countries. But, as noted, the fact that AQ had an “agreement” with the Iranian regime had been revealed by the Obama administration years earlier. Why NIAC would not want additional information released I leave for you to consider.
The Obama administration ended up transferring billions of dollars to Iran’s rulers in exchange for their promise to slow-walk their nuclear program. The money was used to develop missiles that can carry nuclear warheads, establish military bases in Syria, arm Houthi rebels, attack Saudi oil facilities, and similar purposes.
And while Iran’s rulers remained in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) along with our European allies, they have repeatedly violated their obligations, for example announcing this past weekend that they were preparing to produce uranium metal, which they had agreed not to do for 15 years.
France, Germany and Britain urged the theocrats to “return to compliance with their JCPOA commitments without further delay.” A prediction: Iran’s rulers will promise to do that if the price is right. But they won’t keep their promise. Because they are not with us. They are with the terrorists — including those who attacked us on 9/11.
• Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a columnist for The Washington Times.