The threat Iran poses to U.S. national security is beginning to sound eerily similar to the widely touted threat posed by Iraq in the run-up to its invasion in 2003. It's a recipe that calls for a frothy link to al Qaeda and a generous helping of WMD fears.
The prospect of a nuclear-armed Tehran has loomed over discussions about a military intervention in Iran for years, but only recently have the country's ties to al Qaeda crept into the mainstream.
In elite foreign policy circles, the link between Iran and al Qaeda gained prominence in late January following the publication of a 2,000-word Foreign Affairs article "Al Qaeda in Iran" by the Rand Corporation's Seth Jones. Jones wrote that several of al Qaeda's most senior leaders are being held in Iran under house arrest and that "evidence of the Iranian-al Qaeda partnership abounds." Despite the fact that the Sunni terrorist group despises Shias, Jones emphasized that both groups share a hatred of the United States and called on U.S. policymakers to "draw greater public attention to Iran's limited, but still unacceptable, cooperation with al Qaeda."
It didn't take long for Jones's warnings to gain wider circulation. Five days after the article's publication, The Wall Street Journal's Siobhan Gorman wrote a piece titled "U.S. Fears Iran's Links to al Qaeda," pushing the story further. "U.S. officials say they believe Iran recently gave new freedoms to as many as five top al Qaeda operatives who have been under house arrest, including the option to leave the country, and may have provided some material aid to the terrorist group," writes Gorman in her lede. It isn't until the second-to-last paragraph that we're told the terrorists would face arrest and prosecution if they took the option to leave Iran (a less fearsome prospect than releasing them). Jones is cited in the article saying Iran has "in effect," given sanctuary to senior al Qaeda leaders for years, though the U.S. officials alluded in the story remain anonymous.