Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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In War on Islamism, Iran Has Always Been a Danger
The current escalation of tensions with Iran over its potential and desire to produce nuclear weapons obscures an important point-that Iran's Shi'ite leadership has long played a crucial role in aiding and abetting al Qaeda and other violent Sunni movements. This is not to say that the United States can or should engage in another war or that diplomatic efforts on the nuclear issues should not be exhausted before other options are explored.

But Iran has, according to European and U.S. intelligence sources, continued to provide shelter to numerous senior al Qaeda operatives, including a son of Osama bin Laden. The ties go back to those described by al Qaeda defectors after the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa, when bin Laden and Hezbollah leaders held a series of meetings to exchange training and information. This information, while publicly available from court transcripts and eye-witness accounts, is seldom factored into the equation of what Iran is up to.

Elements of Iranian security forces helped al Qaeda leaders escape from Afghanistan, providing safe haven, travel documents and protection. Among those at least transiting through Iran was one of Osama's wives. Several operational leaders and perhaps Osama's oldest son are still under nominal house arrest in Iran.

The explanation for this collaboration can be found in the international Muslim Brotherhood, which retain strong ties across the Sunni-Shi'ite religious divide. Alain Chouet, a 30-year veteran of the French intelligence services has just written one of the best analysis of the Brotherhood I have seen. He describes the international Brotherhood as "synonymous with exclusion, violence, isolation and confrontation with the rest of the world."

Within the Sunni-Shi'ite bloodletting in Iraq, it appears there is, on the ground level, a great divide among the two groups. But on a macro level, the Brotherhood has helped bridge the gulf in strategic ways, primarily through its financial structure.

There is still a residual cultural aversion to thinking of Sunni and Shi'ite radical groups working together. But it happens all the time, from Africa to Iran. Iran's nuclear program may be a mid-term threat. It's terrorist ties, through Hezbollah and al Qaeda, are of more immediate concern.
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