Bin Laden docs show that alleged Iran-Al Qaeda alliance is neocon hype

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Thomas Joscelyn of the Foundation for the
Defense of Democracies

As part of their quest for a military solution to Iran’s nuclear program, asserting a strong Iran-Al Qaeda connection became a staple of neoconservative thought. But new documents released yesterday by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center (CTC), picked up by US special forces during the raid on bin Laden, show a much more complicated, and antagonistic, relationship.

As Ali Gharib notes at Think Progress, the Weekly Standard has printed Thomas Joscelyn of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies three times in the past two months, all of them articles on the Al Qaeda-Iran connection.

“Al Qaeda has a substantial network inside Iran,” Joscelyn asserts in one article. He also correctly cites the fact that the Treasury Department under the Obama administration has likewise said that there is an Iranian “alliance with al Qaeda.” (As Mondoweiss has reported, until January 2011, the Treasury Department’s main official on Iran was Stuart Levey, a holdover from the Bush administration with strong ties to the Israel lobby. After Levey left the Obama administration, the main official on Iran and sanctions in the department became David Cohen, Levey’s former law partner.)

Juan Cole does the digging through the documents. Turns out the neoconservatives –surprise!–are wrong:

The documents show that Bin Laden did not like or trust Iran, that al-Qaeda members who fled to Iran were surprised when they were rounded up and arrested by Iranian authorities, that they were dismayed when Iran started sending them back to their home countries, and that they felt that Iran often lied to them. They called Shiites “rawafid,” a nasty epithet used by Sunnis who don’t like Shiites very much.

They also show that sometimes al-Qaeda could get Iran to release its members, but hardly because they both hate the US and Israel. It was by mafia-like tactics such as kidnapping and threatening Iranian diplomatic personnel abroad (e.g. the consul at Peshawar) that al-Qaeda got a tiny bit of leverage over Tehran.

Al Monitor‘s Barbara Slavin also has more background. Turns out the Obama administration has also been misleading:

Iran and the group that became al-Qaeda have had some sort of ties for more than two decades, but the nature of the relationship has been subject to considerable speculation and hype. The newly released documents suggest that the two are largely antagonistic and underline the view that the George W. Bush administration missed what could have been a major opportunity to work with Iran against the Sunni militant group responsible for the 9-11 attacks.

The report also suggests that the Barack Obama administration may have overstated the case when the U.S. Treasury Department designated Iran last July 28 for having a “secret deal with al-Qaeda allowing it to funnel funds and operatives through its territory.”

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