The Islamic Republic's shrewd gambit in supporting two opposing groups.
According to several national and international news outlets, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the top Al Qaeda propagandist and Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, will be going on trial in 10 days in federal court in Lower Manhattan.
Abu Ghaith, who used to be Al-Qaeda’s official spokesman and is married to bin Laden’s daughter Fatima, is facing charges including providing material assistance to terrorists groups and conspiracy to kill Americans, among others.
An unrecognized fact is that Abu Ghaith used to live in Iran and was allowed to leave the country freely. According to the Treasury Department, U.S. documents and officials, other members of Osama bin Laden's family and inner circle besides Abu Ghaith lived in Iran as well.
Some prominent figures of this group are Saif al-Adel, the military commander of Al-Qaeda and a former Egyptian Special Forces officer, as well as Saad bin Laden, one of Osama Bin Laden’s older sons, who has played a crucial role in the leadership of Al-Qaeda.
More recently, in a report released this week, the US Treasury Department has charged Iran with assisting Al-Qaeda operatives based in the Islamic Republic. The charges have also been brought because Tehran has allowed senior Al-Qaeda members to conduct operations from various regions in Iran, according to the report.
The allegations also strongly indicated that some political figures in the Iranian government and its elite Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have been covertly and tacitly backing Al-Qaeda and other opposition groups in Syria's civil war.
The Treasury Department, which is introducing new sanctions targeting Iranian terror links, reported that there was "a key Iran-based al-Qa’ida facilitator who supports al-Qa’ida’s vital facilitation network in Iran [and] operates there with the knowledge of Iranian authorities.” The report also adds, “the network also uses Iran as a transit point for moving funding and foreign fighters through Turkey to support al-Qa’ida-affiliated elements in Syria, including the al-Nusrah Front.”
Olimzhon Adkhamovich Sadikov— also known as Jafar al-Uzbeki and Jafar Muidinov—is characterized by the Treasury Department as an Iran-based Islamic Jihad Union facilitator. This facilitator “operates there with the knowledge of Iranian authorities” and provides funding and logistical support to Al-Qaeda’s Iran-based network.
But it seems that some politicians, scholars and policy analysts are perplexed at how it might be possible for the Islamic Republic of Iran to be supporting Al-Qaeda. Particularly when it comes to Syria, logically, Iran cannot side with Al-Qaeda because Al-Qaeda-linked groups (including Islamic State of Iran and Lebanon and Jubhat Al-Nusra) are attempting to overthrow Assad’s regime, Iran’s staunchest geopolitical, geoeconomic and strategic ally. Even the Treasury Department’s report could not explain why Iran and Al-Qaeda, two seemingly odd bedfellows, would be working together
The main reason that these politicians, scholars, and policy analysts cannot easily see the link is that they view Iran’s politics and the Ayatollah’s policies through a simplified and binary prism. Their main argument comes down to the fact that Al-Qaeda, a Sunni fundamentalist and extremist group, is against the Shiite and Alawite governments of Iran and Syria.
This very simplistic analysis does not highlight the complexity and nuances of the relationships between Iran, Syria, Al-Qaeda and Middle Eastern politics. The link between Iran and Al-Qaeda, in fact, becomes rational when one looks at the objectives of the Aytaollah, Assad’s regime, and Iran’s foreign policy. Both Iran and Syria started this political game with the United States when the uprising started in Syria. They argued that the Syrian government was attacked by Al-Qaeda.
Several reports indicated that Assad, in fact, released many Al-Qaeda members from prison, with Iran assisting their network, in order to buttress the argument that the Assad regime was being attacked by Al-Qaeda. Reportedly, the Al-Qaeda-linked groups in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS have even been selling oil to the Assad regime in exchange for money and recruits with the assistance of Tehran.
In addition, the Islamic Republic can use Al-Qaeda’s Iran-based network to thwart US foreign policy objectives in the region and tip the regional balance of power in favor of Iran and against other regional powers such as Israel.
Iran is also looking for alternatives in case Assad’s apparatuses collapse in Syria. In other words, the Islamic Republic will support its ally as long as Assad can retain his power. If Assad falls, the Islamic Republic will take sides with the winning coalition. Currently, the most powerful groups in Syria are the Al-Qaeda-linked groups. The Islamic Republic will attempt to utilize any powerful extremist groups in order to accomplish its foreign policy goals and ideological and hegemonic objectives.
The perplexing fact is that, if US documents, officials and the Treasury Department have released a report indicating that Iran has been supporting Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda’s Iran-based network, how the United States is still releasing billions of dollars to the Islamic Republic, easing sanctions, and signing conciliatory nuclear deals through diplomatic ways. This seems to be the question that policy analysts, politicians and scholars should pay attention to, rather than debating how Iran can support two opposing groups.
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