The Congressional Research Service highlighted SOUTHCOM Commander Admiral Kurt Tidd’s statement that “as a state sponsor of terrorism, Iran’s nefarious involvement in the Western Hemisphere is a matter for concern.” The admiral noted that Iran has expanded ties with Latin America.
Moreover, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Lawfare Institute: “U.S. authorities believed that Hezbollah [Iran’s proxy] helped the Sinaloa cartel build smuggling tunnels under the U.S.-Mexican border, drawing on expertise from Hezbollah’s work digging tunnels under the Lebanese-Israeli border [and Hamas’ experience in building tunnels from the Sinai Peninsula to Gaza and from Gaza to Israel, smuggling weaponry and terrorists] …
“Hezbollah has been suspected of partnering with Mexican drug cartels such as the Sinaloa cartel, the preeminent drug trafficking organization in that country for much of the 2000s. … Iran’s area of influence is not limited to its region. Over the past decade, it has launched operations, either through Hezbollah or its own agents, around the world—including in Latin America, Eastern Europe, East and South Asia, Western and Central Africa, and within the United States itself … .”
Notwithstanding their soothing diplomatic talk, the violent walk of Iran’s ayatollahs—since the 1978-79 Islamic Revolution—attests to the fact that the worldview of this rogue Shi’ite regime is not amenable to Western values and institutions such as peaceful coexistence, democracy and human rights, or good-faith negotiation.
Iran’s ayatollahs have been preoccupied with guns rather than butter since the revolution that transformed Iran from “the American policeman of the Gulf” to the anti-U.S. Islamic Republic of Iran. They have not been driven by despair and frustration (supposedly triggered by global sanctions and non-recognition as a major regional power), but by their 1,400-year-old fanatic, imperialist Shi’ite vision. A vision that transcends the subjugation of the Persian Gulf and the Middle East, extending all the way to the American continent.
The ayatollahs are determined to export the revolution worldwide and establish a global entity, ruled by Shi’ite Islam, vanquishing (peacefully or militarily) the “apostate” and “heretic” Sunni regimes in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt, as well as the “infidel” West, and especially the United States, “The Great Satan.”
The attempt to induce moderation by showering the ayatollahs with diplomatic and financial gestures and concessions ignores their pernicious track record, including the tendency to bite the hand that feeds them (e.g., terrorizing the United States as a follow up to President Carter’s 1978-79 critical assistance to the Islamic Revolution). The Western courting of the ayatollahs is perceived by them as weakness, which whets their rogue appetite.
Thus, the 2015 Iran nuclear accord (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) provided the ayatollahs with a diplomatic and financial bonanza, but, as expected, it did not moderate their conduct. In fact, it was harnessed to bolster their subversive and terrorist ventures, accelerate the development, manufacturing and proliferation of military technologies and expand the ayatollahs’ global network of anti-U.S. proxy forces through training, financing and supply of military systems and technologies (e.g., ballistic missiles, predator drones, improvised explosive devices and tunnel construction).
Iran’s anti-U.S. global terrorist network
The Atlantic Council reported: “A narcoterrorism conspiracy involves dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), drug cartels in Mexico, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah [Iran’s proxy]. … The Hezbollah crime-terror network moved to Colombia and to the Tri-Border Area between Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina. … Hezbollah’s External Security Organization has co-opted many Lebanese families throughout Central and South America as well as the Caribbean …
“It is tied to a vast transnational criminal network that includes an array of businesses in Latin America, laundering illicit funds. … In October 2018, the U.S. Justice Department named Hezbollah alongside three major Mexican cartels and the Central American gang MS-13 as transnational criminal organizations. … A logistical air bridge exists between Caracas, Damascus, and Tehran. Thus, more than 300,000 Venezuelans reside in a city called As-Suwayda in southwestern Syria (“little Venezuela”), many of them dual-nationals.
“Hezbollah has helped the Maduro regime become the central hub for the convergence of transnational organized crime and international terrorism in the Western Hemisphere, multiplying the logistic and financial benefits for both. … Hezbollah’s influence within, and infiltration of, Lebanese expat communities gives Iran a gateway to grow its footprint in Venezuela …
“Iran has deep-rooted connections in several African nations—through its own agents or those of Hezbollah. … In 2017, the U.S. Justice Department charged two naturalized U.S. citizens, holding Lebanese passports, with providing material support for Hezbollah’s targeting of military installations and airports in New York City … .”
The Congressional Research Service notes special Iranian operations, including drug trafficking, money laundering, terrorism and intelligence, in the Tri-Border Areas (Argentina-Paraguay-Brazil and Chile-Peru-Bolivia), Ecuador, Uruguay, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Mexico, focusing on leftist governments that share the goal of reducing U.S. influence in the region. In 2012, Iran launched a Spanish-language satellite TV network as part of its ideological, cultural and religious campaign. An Iranian intelligence network was established in Guyana.
According to the State Department Iran Country Report, 2020, the Iranian government continued supporting terrorist plots. For instance, Albania, Belgium and the Netherlands have either arrested or expelled Iranian government officials implicated in terrorism on their soil. Iran remains unwilling to bring to justice senior Al-Qaeda members residing in the country, allowing them to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iran since at least 2009, and enabling them to move funds and fighters to South Asia and Syria.
In Bahrain, Iran supports and trains local Shi’ite terrorists. In Yemen, Iran has provided weapons and advanced equipment such as unmanned aircraft systems, training and other support to Houthi militants, who have engaged in attacks against Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Iran supports various Iraqi Shi’ite terrorist groups, which have targeted U.S. installations while committing human-rights abuses against Sunni civilians. Iranian forces have directly backed militia operations in Syria with armored vehicles, artillery and drones.
“Iran has supplied Hezbollah in Lebanon with thousands of rockets, missiles and small arms, advanced weapons systems and technologies, as well as assisting the group in creating infrastructure that would permit it to indigenously produce rockets and missiles to threaten Israel from Lebanon and Syria. Iran has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in support of Hezbollah and trained thousands of its fighters at camps in Iran. Hezbollah fighters have been used extensively in Syria to support the Assad regime.
The bottom line
The well-documented domestic and overseas track record of Iran’s ayatollahs should not take a backseat to speculative assessments of their future track record. Such an error of judgment threatens the survival of all pro-U.S. Arab regimes, and undermines the national security and homeland security of the United States.
When dealing with the rogue Iranian regime, one should not exclude the military option or the regime-change option. Such an exclusion generates a robust tailwind for Iran’s ayatollahs while betraying Iran’s oppressed ethnic and religious minorities.
While there may be a substantial cost to a military option, it would be dwarfed by the regional and global cost of a nuclear Iran, including the cost to the U.S. national and homeland security.
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.