Did Iran help al-Qaida stage the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States?
Perhaps, suggested the U.S. 9/11 commission. It claimed Iran allowed eight al-Qaida future airplane hijackers to pass through Iran from Afghanistan between seven and 11 months prior to the attacks on America.
Unnamed senior Bush administration officials also claim Iran proposed collaborating with al-Qaida in 2000, but was rejected by Osama bin Laden. "Maybe we attacked the wrong country," one of the dimmer lights in Congress ruefully observed.
There has been no real evidence produced that Iran knew of the 9/11 attacks or assisted them. In fact, the Bush administration has still never produced the white paper promised by Colin Powell in late 2001 proving bin Laden and al-Qaida were behind 9/11.
Why would Iran, knowing it was in Bush's gunsights, join in a monstrous terrorist attack that, if linked to Tehran, could have conceivably brought U.S. nuclear retaliation?
This column has long predicted the Bush administration would orchestrate a pre-election crisis over Iran designed to whip up patriotic fervour in the U.S. and distract public and media attention from the Iraq fiasco.
The growing clamour over Iran's nuclear intentions, with rumblings about air strikes against Iran's reactors in the fall, may prove to be a part of just such a manufactured crisis.
Remember, these latest fevered claims about Iran come from the same "reliable intelligence sources" and neo-conservative hawks who insisted Iraq had a vast arsenal of weapons of mass destruction that threatened the U.S., with intimate links to al-Qaida.
The Iran-Afghan border is 1,000 km of wild, broken terrain that is extremely difficult to police. Large numbers of smugglers cross this border on countless hidden trails, bringing hashish and gems into Iran. The U.S., with fleets of planes, helicopters and sensors, cannot stop a flood of undocumented Mexicans crossing its own southwestern borders.
Why should the poorly equipped Iranians do any better?
Didn't these same 9/11 hijackers also enter the U.S. unchallenged? Of course. They slipped unnoticed into Iran and the U.S. No one knew their intentions. This is the most likely explanation.
Iran does not have a unified government. This nation of 72.5 million is afflicted by feuding factions that have produced a state of political chaos. Iran has certainly been involved in acts of terrorism, notably against Jews in Argentina.
And militants from the intelligence service or Pasdarann (Revolutionary Guards), might have let al-Qaida mujahidin slip across the border without Tehran's knowledge.
But far more important are two key facts that most media and the government aren't telling you.
First, Iran and al-Qaida were bitter enemies.
In Afghanistan, al-Qaida ardently backed the Pushtun-dominated, Sunni Taliban movement, which hated Shia as heretics and killed large numbers of them. Shia Iran (and Russia) armed and supported the Taliban's greatest foe, Ahmad Shah Massoud and his Northern Alliance, composed of Dari (a Persian dialect)-speaking Tajiks, Afghan communists, and Shia. Massoud was a long-time collaborator with Soviet/Russian intelligence.
After the Taliban killed a group of Iranian intelligence agents, Iran almost invaded Afghanistan to overthrow them.
Just before 9/11, al-Qaida assassinated Massoud.
Iran quietly aided the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan that overthrew the Taliban, and jailed scores of al-Qaida members, including one of bin Laden's sons.
Active Iranian co-operation with al-Qaida seems illogical. Of course my enemy's enemy is my friend, and collaboration was theoretically possible, but Iran derived no benefit whatever from the 9/11 attacks -- quite the contrary.
Second, the Bush administration and former Clinton officials are trading accusations that the other was responsible for failing to take action against al-Qaida and its Taliban allies prior to 9/11.
But what no one admits is that both administrations sent millions in aid to the Taliban until four months before 9/11.