Iran expert and former CIA analyst Reuel Marc Gerecht of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies was part of that debate. He e-mails me:
Iranian-al-Qaeda ties were perhaps the most interesting and dangerous part of the 9/11 Commission Report. It is shocking to recall the counterterrorist experts of the Clinton and Obama administrations — let alone President Obama and Vice President Biden, who used to refer to al-Qaeda holy warriors in Iran as being “under arrest” — who have assiduously turned a blind eye to this deeply disturbing information about Iranian complicity in al-Qaida terrorism. My Lord, Ayman az-Zawahiri, now the leader of Al-Qaeda, was Iran’s favorite Sunni jihadist poster boy, an honored guest in Iran in the 1980s. If Al-Qaeda again gains a global strike capacity, it will most likely be because of the aid that Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, and his Revolutionary Guard Corps have given it.
Gerecht explains that this has policy ramifications as well: “It is just nuts that so many on the left and the right have looked upon this regime’s quest for nuclear weapons as a threat best handled by diplomacy and at most sanctions. This is not a status quo regime. It conceives of itself as an Islamic revolutionary vanguard. It has always been ecumenical in its attitudes towards Sunni jihadists. You should no more allow this regime nukes as you would allow the bomb to az-Zawahiri.” The three senators echoed this sentiment in their statement: “This revelation should also inject renewed impetus to our efforts to stop Teheran’s accelerating nuclear drive. Any regime that makes secret deals with al-Qa’ida cannot be allowed under any circumstances to possess a nuclear weapons capability.”
Gerecht colleague Jonathan Schanzer recalls: “This is not a surprise. The 9/11 Report called upon the intelligence community to explain the intelligence it found linking al-Qaeda to Iran. Nothing came of it. Treasury has also designated other al-Qaeda targets in the past. Nobody seemed to notice. And of course, al-Qaeda enjoyed safe haven in Sudan during the early 1990s when that country was under the strong influence of the mullahs. Did anyone really think that ties weren’t forged?’”