Iran’s ayatollahs are already in America’s backyard

Suspending sanctions on Iran would enable it to substantially bolster its support of the anti-U.S. Latin American governments and terrorist groups.

An image published by Ayatollah Khamanei's office showing Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque surrounded by Iranian figures and Iranian proxy leaders. The image remarkably included Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro. Credit: Alma Center.
An image published by Ayatollah Khamanei's office showing Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque surrounded by Iranian figures and Iranian proxy leaders. The image remarkably included Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro. Credit: Alma Center.
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

While some Western democracies have attempted to isolate Iran, the latter has entrenched itself in America’s own backyard. These undertakings have been advanced by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard, its Quds Force (which collaborates with anti-U.S. international terror organizations) and Hezbollah.

Since their 1979 overthrow of the Shah of Iran, Iran’s ayatollahs have considered Latin America, all the way to the U.S.-Mexico border, to be the soft underbelly of the “Great Satan,” America. Hence, their intense collaboration—along with their proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas—with the leading drug cartels of Mexico, Columbia and Bolivia, Latin American terror organizations and anti-U.S. governments in South and Central America: Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile.

In fact, Iran’s ayatollahs have contributed to enhanced coordination among the anti-U.S. Latin American governments. They have co-led the effort to establish joint anti-U.S. Latin American intelligence facilities. In addition, they have recruited Latin American terrorists, training them in Iran.

The ayatollahs regard Latin America (especially Venezuela) as a platform for money-laundering, skirting financial sanctions and facilitating access to banned materials (e.g., mining tantalum in Bolivia, thorianite in Guyana and Suriname and uranium in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador). They also consider the destabilization of Latin America, and the erosion of U.S. stature there, to be a top priority. They have leveraged the vast lawless areas (e.g., the trilateral border areas in South America and the jungles of Venezuela) and the widespread anti-U.S. sentiment in the region to further entrench themselves on the doorstep of the U.S. mainland.

The close bilateral strategic relations between Iran’s ayatollahs and the anti-U.S. governments of South and Central America have demonstrated that an effective anti-U.S. bloc may be established between revolutionary Islam (e.g., the radical Shi’ite, theocratic and repressive Iran) and communism and radical socialism (e.g., the repressive, secular Venezuela and Cuba).

Since their rise to power in 1979, Iran’s ayatollahs have considered the “Great Satan” to be the main obstacle on the way to their megalomaniacal goal, which transcends the Persian Gulf and the Middle East. Their goal—as reflected through their systematic anti-U.S. terrorism, subversion, the proliferation of ballistic technologies, school curriculum, mosque sermons and mass public processions—has been to dominate the Islamic World and bring the West, and especially the United States, into submission.


Venezuela was one of the first countries to recognize the ayatollahs’ takeover of Iran. The ayatollahs and Venezuela have collaborated on the development of nuclear and ballistic technologies, have financed their activities through narco-trafficking and money-laundering and have conducted joint terrorist training. Both countries have strong ties to Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists.

There is also the possibility that Venezuela is a source of uranium for Iran.

As New York County District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau wrote in 2009, “According to a report published in December 2008 by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Venezuela has an estimated 50,000 tons of un-mined uranium. In the area of mineral exploration there is speculation that Venezuela could be mining uranium for Iran…. a number of Iranian-owned and controlled factories have sprung up in remote and undeveloped parts of Venezuela …

“The lack of infrastructure is offset by what experts believe to be ideal geographic locations for the illicit production of weapons … in December 2008, Turkish authorities detained an Iranian vessel bound for Venezuela after discovering lab equipment capable of producing explosives packed inside 22 containers marked ‘tractor parts … ‘

“There is little reason to doubt Venezuela’s support for Ahmadinejad’s most important agenda, the development of a nuclear program and long-range missiles, and the destabilization of the region. For Iran, the lifeblood of [its] nuclear and weapons programs is the ability to use the international banking system to make payments for banned missiles and nuclear materials. The opening of Venezuela’s banks to the Iranians guarantees the continued development of nuclear technology and long-range missiles.”


The Cuba-Iran connection began following the 1979 Islamic Revolution when Fidel Castro was one of the first heads of state to recognize the anti-U.S. regime of Iran’s ayatollahs.

Furthermore, an anti-American Russia-Cuba-Iran alliance was established to injure U.S. stature in Latin America and undermine U.S. pressure on Cuba.

Marzia Giambertoni 0f Brown University wrote in a 2021 article for the Middle East Institute that “Iran has compensated Cuba directly for allowing it to engage in electronic attacks on the U.S. from the island. … Iran has never failed to support Cuba on the international front in return for its intelligence services. … By the end of the 1990s, it had moved beyond simple exports to transferring medical biotechnology and, along with the technical know-how, capabilities for developing and manufacturing industrial quantities of biological weapons.

According to professor Jaime Suchlicki, director of the University of Miami Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, the University of Miami, Tehran and Havana have a shared interest in Venezuela that is of potential concern to the United States.

“Venezuela’s strategic position and considerable resources make it a potentially greater threat to U.S. interests in the region than the one posed in the 1960s by the Castro regime,” wrote Suchlicki in a 2015 Foreign Policy article.

“Venezuela’s alliances with Iran, Syria, and other anti-American countries and its support for terrorist groups … are as formidable a challenge as the Cuba-Soviet alliance. … Iranian as well as Cuban personnel are advising, protecting, and training Venezuela’s security apparatus. … Geographically, Cuba’s strategic location enabled the Islamic Republic, on at least one occasion, to clandestinely engage in electronic attacks against U.S. telecommunications that posed a threat to the Islamic regime’s censorship apparatus. … The jamming was traced to a compound in the outskirts of Havana.”

Suchlicki went on to state that the “infusion of Islamic capital” from Iran had “strengthened the Cuban regime’s stability and reduced the risk of economic collapse.”

Cuba has also cooperated with Iran to help build security architecture to protect Venezuela. The expeditionary wing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Quds Force, worked alongside Cuban intelligence in Venezuela to consolidate the regime’s hold. Since 2005, Iran has extended €1 billion in loans to Cuba and is heavily involved in several projects there, including a shared intelligence station to block U.S. radio broadcasts.

Suspending sanctions imposed on Iran’s ayatollahs would enable the latter to substantially bolster their support of the anti-U.S. Latin American governments and terrorist groups, intensifying a clear and present threat to the homeland and national security of the United States.

Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

This article was first published by The Ettinger Report.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Just before you scroll on...

Israel is at war. JNS is combating the stream of misinformation on Israel with real, honest and factual reporting. In order to deliver this in-depth, unbiased coverage of Israel and the Jewish world, we rely on readers like you. The support you provide allows our journalists to deliver the truth, free from bias and hidden agendas. Can we count on your support? Every contribution, big or small, helps JNS.org remain a trusted source of news you can rely on.

Become a part of our mission by donating today
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates