Bin Laden might also be nurturing bolder plans, such as exploiting or even triggering an all-out war between the United States and Iran. Indeed, there is evidence that al Qaeda in Iraq -- and elements of the Iraqi Sunni community -- increasingly consider Iran's influence in Iraq to be an even greater problem than the U.S. occupation. Al Qaeda worries about the Sunni minority's future in a Shiite-dominated Iraq after the Americans leave...In a remarkable statement last November, Zarqawi's successor, Abu Hamza al-Masri, thanked President George W. Bush for sending the U.S. Army to Iraq and thus giving al Qaeda the "great historic opportunity" to engage Americans in direct fighting on Arab ground. (He also said that Bush was "the most stupid and ominous president" in U.S. history.) But he warned that the invasion had "revived the glory of the old Persian Safavid Empire in a very short period of time."
A war between the "crusaders" and the "Safavids" would benefit the jihad against both groups: by pitting two of its worst enemies against each other, the Sunni Arab jihadi community would be killing two birds with one stone.
The biggest danger is that al Qaeda will deliberately provoke a war with a "false-flag" operation, say, a terrorist attack carried out in a way that would make it appear as though it were Iran's doing. The United States should be extremely wary of such deception. In the event of an attack, accurately assigning blame will require very careful intelligence work. It may require months, or even years, of patient investigating to identify the plotters behind well-planned and well-executed operations, as it did for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and the 1996 attacks on the U.S. barracks at the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia.
Riedel does not comment on whether Al Qaeda is even capable of such an operation. But the mere thought that they may be capable of one should strike fear in your heart, because there are those in the Bush administration (and without) who are begging for the excuse to attack Iran and will not be careful to distinguish between the work of Iranian agents and terrorists of Al Qaeda. "Careful intelligence work"? Not on your life, not from this administration, however prudent and wise Riedel's suggestion is. War with Iran, bad enough for countless other reasons, will also serve to strengthen the hand of al Qaeda. It must not be allowed to happen. Period.
I highly recommend you read the whole article, which provides a succinct history of al Qaeda as well as a summary of its present standing and future potential deadliness. I hope to comment on some other note-worthy aspects of the article soon.