One of Iran’s most senior military commanders has claimed that the United States engineered the September 11 terrorist attacks in order to sow Sunni-Shia strife, in the latest variation of a conspiracy theory confined to the fringes in the west but commonly believed in the Muslim world.
In an interview with Iran’s official Arabic-language TV network Al Alam, Brigadier-General Ahmad Reza Pourdestan claimed that the US government contrived to attack itself in order to stem the rise of Islam.
“These wars (in the Middle East) stem from a comprehensive American strategy,” he opined. “After the fall of the Soviet Union the Americans felt that a new force was beginning to materialize, namely, the union between Sunnis and Shiites.”
Pourdestan, who is the commander of the Iranian Ground Forces, claimed it was Iran who led that union – despite its record of antagonism both towards its own Sunni minority and neighboring Sunni Muslim states.
“This force is Islam, or the Islamic world,” he added.
He asserted that in order to head off this emerging union, “the first thing [the Americans] did was to plan and carry out the events of 9/11 in order to justify their presence in Western Asia, with the goal of ruling it.”
Despite the recent overtures to Tehran by Washington – not least the generous framework deal over Iran’s nuclear program – Iranian official rhetoric has remained staunchly anti-American.
The US is still referred to as “the Great Satan,” and Iranian officials still lead chants of “Death to America” at official state rallies.
More crucially, the Islamic Republic has upped its support for terrorist proxies throughout the Middle East, many of whom are engaged directly with US allies including Israel, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
Critics of the nuclear deal with Iran – most prominently in Israel – have warned Tehran is taking advantage of the softening of international pressure to increase, to scale back on, its aggression in the region.
Moving on from his message of Muslim unity, Pourdestan went on to issue veiled threats against Saudi Arabia for its intervention in Yemen, after Iranian-backed Houthi rebels ousted the Saudi-backed government.
He claimed the gulf kingdom would not be able to withstand sustained attacks on its homeland – an eventuality he hinted was possible now that Houthis had seized advanced weaponry from the Yemeni government’s arsenal.
“If Saudi cities were targeted by bombings and missiles, it would be difficult for the officials there to withstand this,” he said.
“They are capable of dealing lethal blows to Saudi Arabia,” he added of the Houthis.
Pourdestan also addressed the rise of ISIS, warning that if the group came within 40 kilometers of the border with Iran “we will confront them.”