Photo: AP
Search for missing Malaysian plane. How involved was Iran in possible terror attack?
Photo: AP
Ronen Bergman

The Malaysian plane, Iran and global jihad

Analysis: It would be surprising if it turns out that Iran got directly involved in a mass terror attack, especially these days. Yet like in 9/11 attacks, Iranians do cooperate with radical Islamic groups.

HONG KONG – In July 2004, several days before they were set to conclude their work, members of the national commission of inquiry into the 9/11 attacks discovered an intelligence time bomb.



They found out that in a special vault at the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Fort Meade, the American intelligence kept extremely classified information about the connection between the Iranian intelligence and al-Qaeda, starting from the 1990s to the eve of the 9/11 attacks.


Within these piles of materials were 75 intelligence documents defined as "critical" for understanding the connection between Tehran and bin Laden, including proof that Iran was responsible for planning the journeys of at least eight of the 10 Saudi terrorists in the months before 9/11.


The commission members didn't know what to do: On the one hand, they discovered a completely new lead; on the other hand, there was no way that anyone could process all this material within several days. On the background, the Bush administration was breathing down their necks. The US Army had been deep inside Iraq for more than a year, as a response to the terror offensive. If the commission were to discover that it was the wrong target – Iran was to blame, rather than Iraq – what would the president tell his voters, the bereaved families, the coalition countries, the Iraqi people? Oops, sorry, we made a mistake?


In the end they reached a compromise: They squeezed part of the information into three pages (p. 240-242 of the report), which were written in extreme haste, raising serious suspicions that Iran was responsible for planning the journeys of at least eight of the 10 Saudi terrorists in the months before the terror attacks, and called for a further thorough investigation by the administration.


Such an investigation was likely never conducted, because the American administration, as all administration, was afraid of trapping itself by determining Iran's involvement in one of the most significant events in the history of the United States, which would have required an immediate military response against the ayatollah regime.


Later on, the families of the World Trade Center attack's victims succeeded in presenting the New York court with sufficient evidence, some of it from Israeli intelligence sources, that Iran had been involved in helping to form and create al-Qaeda and in providing the abilities which led the organization to carry out the dreadful attack.


Iranian regime is not of one piece

The Malaysian plane's disappearance, and most likely crash, has been casting a heavy shadow in recent days on the headlines of Asia's economic newspapers, and not just on them. The economic boom in this part of the planet is conditioned and depends on air traffic. Some 50 million people pass through Hong Kong's airport, the financial gate to China, every year, mostly businesspeople. Damaging the freedom or safety of their passage may lead to serious economic outcomes.


What caused this aviation disaster? Obviously, it's much too early to say. It will take many months, maybe years, before the circumstances of the incident are figured out, if they ever are. Nonetheless, the fact that the plane disappeared at once, without sending distress signals or reporting a malfunction, raises the fear that it was a terror attack. On Tuesday, Malaysian sources reported that an Iranian businessman had purchased the plane tickets for the passengers who got on the flight, which ended in the depth of the ocean, with fake passports.


It would be surprising if it turns out that Iran, especially these days, took the risk and got directly involved in such an operation. Yet the Iranian regime is not of one piece, including the state's intelligence and security organizations, and there is a possibility that a certain militia would see it fit to cooperate with radical Islamic groups.


Iran maintains relations of affinity-hatred with global jihad groups. On the one hand, the jihad members are Sunnis (mostly Salafis) with a religious worldview which rejects the Shia. On the other hand, both sides are demonstrating pragmatism and cooperating in certain arenas in different circumstances. Like with the preparations for the 9/11 attacks, the Iranians or an Iranian group may not necessarily be aware of full plans, but are providing the jihad groups with general aid, both logistic and financial, which helps them execute their plans.


Iran's direct or indirect involvement in numerous attacks has either not been investigated like in the 9/11 case or has been investigated – but the countries holding the evidence for this involvement, including the US, are avoiding presenting it. Those in favor of continuing this policy in Tehran can go on uninterrupted.


פרסום ראשון: 03.14.14, 01:13
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