Jewish World Review Dec. 30, 2003 / 5 Teves, 5764

Jack Kelly

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The happiest development so far in the war on terror could be coming to an end? | Britain's Financial Times reported Dec. 26 that Osama bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, were seen in October in the Iranian town of Najmabad, about 90 miles west of Tehran.

The source, who the Financial Times said was "a man with links to Iran's intelligence services," said the al Qaida leaders were driven to a guest house by members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The Iranian government denies that the meeting - which the Financial Times source said he witnessed - took place. But Mansoor Ijaz, a Pakistani-American businessman with excellent ties to Pakistan's intelligence service, has been saying for weeks that the al Qaida leadership has relocated from the tribal areas in southwestern Pakistan to Iran. The countries share an extensive border.

Bin Laden - who has shaved his head and changed the color of his beard - has been in western Iran since at least July, Ijaz said. He moves between safe houses controlled by the Revolutionary Guard.

The Revolutionary Guard also plans to provide troops and logistical support to Taliban leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar for a winter offensive against Coalition troops in Afghanistan, Ijaz said.

Whether true or false, these reports should remind us of the critical importance of state sponsorship to an international terror organization. And if true, they could signal that the happiest development so far in the war on terror could be coming to an end.

The heightened security alert over the holidays should serve to remind us that there has not been a successful terrorist attack in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001. Never before in our history has no news been such good news.

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I doubt there was a security expert in the country who would have predicted at the time that this would be so.

I think the principal reason was a gross miscalculation by the al Qaida leadership. Bin Laden believed the strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon would cause us to fold like a cheap suit. No followup strikes were planned.

Typically, al Qaida takes two to two and half years to plan a major attack. If that timeline holds, we could be due for another one now.

But in the past, al Qaida had the luxury of planning its attacks from sanctuaries in Afghanistan and Iraq, and of planning them against less than vigilant security forces. The terror group has been driven from those sanctuaries. Many of its leaders have been killed or captured. The others are on the run, and have to be careful about how they communicate, lest they be detected. It's hard to plan new operations when you are relocating frequently, and constantly looking over your shoulder.

If al Qaida has indeed found sanctuary in Iran, the terror group could be poised to resume offensive operations. Al Qaida's leaders can again meet to plot in relative safety, and Iranian diplomatic pouches can replace Afghan and Iraqi diplomatic pouches as a secure, and relatively swift, means of communication.

Indeed, the Saudi newspaper Okaz reported November 21st that the bombing of a residential compound in Riyadh two weeks earlier had been orchestrated by Al Qaida from Iran.

"(Saudi intelligence) sources said (al Qaida security chief) Saif al-Adel led the bombing operation of the Muhaya residential compound, using a Thuraya (satellite) phone to give instructions to the terrorists in the kingdom who carried out the criminal operation," Okaz said.

Those who told us there couldn't possibly be a relationship between Saddam Hussein and al Qaida say a colloboration between the mullahs in Iran and the terror group is unlikely, because the mullahs are Shi'ia extremists, and al Qaida are Sunni extremists, and there is little love lost between them.

But the oldest adage in diplomacy is "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." If Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin could band together to fight the Nazis, then an alliance of convenience between the mullahs and bin Laden to fight the Great Satan is anything but improbable.

The war on terror cannot be won until the entire Axis of Evil has been dismantled. The most dangerous days in that war may lie just ahead.

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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. Comment by clicking here.

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