WASHINGTON - Last week's 9/11 Commission report had a considerable amount of new news about the connections between al-Qaeda and Iran. Earlier leaks had flagged the discovery that Iranian border guards had assisted at least eight of the 9/11 terrorists as they crossed Iran on their suicidal mission; the report added the detail that their passports were not stamped. It is possible this was an oversight, or that the guards were bribed. Such things happen. But it's more likely that there was active co-operation, especially since it turns out that al-Qaeda personnel were trained by Iranians and Iranian surrogates, first in Iran itself and then in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, where Hezbollah -- a wholly owned subsidiary of the Islamic Republic of Iran -- has long operated terrorist training centres. Moreover, the commission reported, such top al-Qaeda leaders as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed spent time in Iran, and parked his family there for several months while he travelled elsewhere.
There are other details, but you get the point. For those who have followed the assembly of the al-Qaeda mosaic, these new tiles are beautiful, but do not change the overall design we have come to know over the past few years. Indeed, the Iranian regime, knowing there is abundant proof that al-Qaeda leaders have spent a lot of time in the Islamic Republic both before and after 9/11, has long since proclaimed that fact, all the while claiming the terrorists were actually "in detention" in Iran. When things got alarmingly hot for Tehran, they even promised to hand over the a-Qaeda killers to the United States (at the same time that the regime's leaders constantly praise the terrorists and call upon the people of the Middle East to do everything necessary to drive out the Coalition forces from Iraq). But of course the promises were never kept, and for good reason: Iran's tyrants can no more surrender the terrorists than amputate their own limbs. Terrorism is the essence of the Iranian regime, and the terrorists are there because the regime wants them, helps them and guides them.
On the Iraqi front, all you have to do is listen to the Defence Minister, who puts it quite clearly: Hazim Shalan was quoted in The Washington Post recently saying Iran has taken over Iraqi border positions, sent spies and saboteurs into the country and infiltrated the new government -- including his own ministry. Iran remains "the first enemy of Iraq," he declared.
It is not just terrorism in Iraq. Hardly a week goes by without new information concerning Iran's active support for the leaders of the intifada against Israel, and the Israeli government has said categorically that Iran is now the leading supporter of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. And why not? Both were created by Iran.
The details are new, but, after all, we already knew the mosaic. Each year, the State Department compiles a list of state sponsors of terrorism, and Iran always wins the blue ribbon.
Alongside the new news about Iran's support for terrorism is the ongoing comic routine about Iran's nuclear program. Here again, the facts are not in dispute. Iran acknowledges its nuclear program, which it claims is necessary for domestic energy generation, even though Iran has a near-inexhaustible supply of natural gas and huge petroleum deposits. The regime faithfully promises to provide the United Nations watchdogs with all the details, and to provide full access. But time and time again the inspectors find the regime has lied, and has lied about components of a program to build atomic bombs. Whenever the International Atomic Energy Agency asks to visit a sensitive site, the Iranians either declare it off limits, or delay the inspection. They talk like virgins, but act like streetwalkers.
President Bush says there is a linkage between terrorism and tyranny, and that the most effective way to win the war against the terrorists is to bring freedom to the Middle East. Nowhere is the accuracy of the linkage, and the importance of a policy of supporting democratic revolution, so evident as in Iran.
The Canadian people have had this point driven home to them by the horrible story of Zahra Kazemi, a brave female journalist who was brutally murdered by the mullahs when she dared to look at the repression under way in Iran.
Time after time, Iran has spit in the face of any Canadian who even hinted that the mullahs should behave in a civilized way. The Iranians told Kazemi's family to get out of the country, for the affront of asking for Zahra's body. The Iranians buried her, destroying the evidence of their crime and humiliating her mourners. Then the regime staged a farcical trial, banned foreign observers, warned the press not to report on it and cleared the only (low-level) person they had bothered to charge.
Faced with this dreadful and dangerous regime, the Western world has punted, combining occasional denunciations and warnings with a constant leitmotif of appeasement. Yet Iran has long been the Middle East's prime candidate for democratic revolution. The mullahs have wrecked the country and alienated the overwhelming majority of its citizens. Given a free choice, Iranians would almost certainly throw the mullahs into history's dust bin. The West should do everything possible to give them that opportunity, just as was done in the Soviet Empire, the Philippines, Yugoslavia, South Africa, Chile and many other former tyrannies that are now much freer and more democratic. If the Iranian people heard the leaders of the West denounce Iran's oppression, its support for terror and its race to build atomic bombs, coupled with calls for regime change in Iran by peaceful means, they might well find ways to accomplish it.
Otherwise we shall soon confront the world's biggest Islamist tyranny, and the world's leading supporter of terrorism, armed with nuclear weapons.
Shouldn't be a tough decision.© National Post 2004