Retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner warned in late 2006 that a sign that the U.S. is preparing to go to war with Iran would be an increase in leaks and disinformation designed to sell the war to the American public. There has been a steady drumbeat of negative reporting about Iran over the past year, but some stories that have recently surfaced in the media have attempted to reinforce two messages: first, Iran is materially involved in killing American soldiers in Iraq and now also in Afghanistan, and second, Iran is working hand in glove with al-Qaeda.
The claim that the Iranians are assisting the Taliban in Afghanistan, made initially on April 17 by U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Peter Pace based on the capture of Iranian-made weapons in Kandahar, was repeated by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, and White House Spokeswoman Dana Perino. The claim is questionable given the Iranians’ antipathy toward the Taliban, who regard Shi’ite Islam as a heresy and have massacred thousands of Shi’ites. Tehran almost declared war on Afghanistan after the Taliban executed eight Iranian diplomats in Mazar-i-Sharif in 1997. Iran undoubtedly is cultivating ties with Afghanistan’s Shi’ite minority Hazars, who live close to the border between the two countries, but it would regard a return of the Taliban to power in Kabul as a catastrophe. As for the weapons, Afghanistan’s bazaars are awash with arms manufactured by Iran, Russia, the United States, and China, dating from the 1990s period when the Taliban fought the Northern Alliance. The Iranians provided the Northern Alliance with weapons, as did the United States and Russia.
A story in the Sunday Times of London on April 22, which claimed to be based on a leaked intelligence report from the Joint Terrorist Analysis Center of Britain’s MI-5, states that al-Qaeda in Iraq is intending to hit “a western target” in a “Nagasaki or Hiroshima size attack,” possibly utilizing a dirty bomb. It also claimed that al-Qaeda was being assisted in that effort by Iran. The assumption of the report was that al-Qaeda and Iran are working together in spite of the ideological divide between the two, though it conceded that Iran might be only “looking the other way” rather than actively engaging in the planned attack. Most intelligence experts are skeptical of the story and believe it is yet another attempt to tie Iran to international terrorism. Iran has a number of al-Qaeda members under arrest, and there are indications that it has engaged in some dialogue with the group, but it is difficult to imagine that it would ever consider dealing strategically with an organization that believes that Shi’ite Muslims are heretics and should be killed. The Sunday Times, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, has frequently surfaced stories about Iran that have turned out to be either incorrect or fabricated, many of which might well be deliberate misinformation generated by the British government or by the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad.
And then there is the mysterious disappearance of Iranian former Revolutionary Guard Gen. Ali Reza Asgari. The Times of London and the Washington Post described in early March how the 63-year-old defector and “father of Hezbollah” escaped Iran together with his extended family. He was carrying documents conveniently “disclosing Iran’s links to terrorists in the Middle East,” according to an Israeli source. Asgari is actually a 43-year-old businessman who was apparently snatched off a street in Istanbul in February, has been out of the Iranian government for several years, and has not been in Lebanon since 1989. His family is still in Tehran and wants him back.
Philip Giraldi, a former CIA Officer, is a partner in Cannistraro Associates, an international security consultancy.