Granting Al-Qaeda’s Wish

By Bruce Riedel, a Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Studies at the Brookings Institution and teaches at Georgetown University. He is a 30 year veteran of the CIA and advised the last three Presidents on Iran in the National Security Council (THE WASHINGTON POST, 09/03/07):

Al-Qaeda sees a war between America and Iran as its fondest dream come true. For the terrorists who attacked America on 9/11 and have been waging war against our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan ever since, a war between the United States and Iran would be a tremendous strategic victory since two of their most deadly enemies would bleed each other. The Sunni Arab jihadist community would kill two birds with one stone.

In February, the new head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, the self proclaimed Amir of the Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, issued a statement welcoming the surge of more American troops into Iraq and looking forward eagerly to an American nuclear attack on Iran. For al-Qaeda, the American occupation of Iraq has been an opportunity to attack U.S. forces in territory sympathetic to the terrorists. Osama bin Laden welcomed the U.S. invasion four years ago, and his lieutenants have openly called the occupation the best opportunity they have had since 9/11 to strike at Americans. As Omar put it “in order to kill the beast, we must get it to leave its den … the idiot Bush sent his army to where we laid ambushes.”

But for al-Qaeda, the downside of the American occupation of Iraq has been the increase in Iran’s influence in the region. Last November another al Qaeda leader in Iraq complained that “the stupid Bush revived the glory of the old Persian Empire in a very short period of time.” The Sunni terrorists have deliberately sought to provoke a civil war between Iraqi Sunni and Shiite Muslims to create the quagmire they hope will bleed America to defeat. However, they have been alarmed at the consequent growth in Tehran’s influence in the country.

Thus, war between the Crusaders and the Safavids, as they call it, will only benefit the jihad against both. Al-Qaeda would best be served by a full scale invasion and occupation, similar to that in Iraq, which would expand the battlefield available to work against the U.S. all the way from Anbar province in the west to the Khyber Pass in the east. However, they seem to understand the American military is too over stretched already to offer such an opening. Thus, they expect us to use nuclear weapons on Iran and have told Sunnis in Iran to evacuate towns close to Iranian nuclear installations.

The United States should do its utmost to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons — and from fomenting violence and supporting terror in the Middle East. Tough diplomacy matched with targeted economic and financial sanctions is the right way to do so. A military operation is not; it will only play into the hands of our worst enemies. That is why they want it so much.