Only days after U.S. officials characterized al-Qaeda as being on the verge of collapse, the Obama administration is pointing a finger at an important lifeline for the militant group: Iran. For the first time, The Wall Street Journal notes, the U.S. has formally accused Tehran of striking a "secret deal" with al-Qaeda to funnel money, arms, and insurgents from the Middle East to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where al-Qaeda is based, through a "core pipeline." The Treasury Department says it's sanctioned six al-Qaeda members for orchestrating the operation, including a Syrian national in Iran who has been living there under an agreement with Iranian authorities since 2005, and that the network relies on donors in oil-rich Persian Gulf countries such as Kuwait and Qatar. The Washington Post says the alleged Iran-to-Pakistan network "would represent the most significant known link between the Iranian government and al-Qaeda."

Why would Shiite-led Iran partner with Sunni-dominated al-Qaeda? Treasury's press release, which you can find here, suggests that the collaboration represents one more indication that "Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world today." The Post adds that while Iran and al-Qaeda are theologically opposed, and Iran has previously held members of the terrorist group under house arrest, "Iran's ruling clerics have occasionally aided al-Qaeda, particularly in permitting the travel of its operatives through Iranian territory," and Iranian officials appear to be stepping up that aid recently.