Iran in the Americas
A Danger for the U.S. and the Continent?
On July 9, four experts appeared before the National Security Committee of the House of Representatives to present their analysis regarding the influence of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the Western Hemisphere.
2013-08-07 by Pedro Fernández Barbadillo
In July 1994, a terrorist attack shook Argentina: a van driven by a suicide bomber destroyed the headquarters of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (The Argentine Jewish Community Center, AMIA) in Buenos Aires. 85 people died and 300 were injured. In 2006, twelve years after the attack, prosecutors Alberto Nisman and Marcelo Martínez Burgos accused the Iranian government of planning the attack and the Hezbollah terrorist group of carrying it out; they also asked for the international arrest of eight former Iranian officials, including the former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, two former ministers, members of Hezbollah, and two former diplomats who, at the time, were deployed at Iran’s embassy in Argentina.
From these and other facts taking place throughout the Americas, as the myriad of agreements signed by the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) members with Iran and the revelation of assassination attempts, such as the one of the Saudi Ambassador in the U.S. and the plot to blow up fuel tanks at Kennedy Airport in New York, it appears that Tehran has set foot in America with the purpose of building a network of activists able to carry out attacks and to work with other objectives, such as weakening international sanctions and access to information for its nuclear program.
This issue is becoming a growing concern for the U.S. On July 9, four experts appeared before the National Security Committee of the House of Representatives to present their analysis regarding the influence of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the Western Hemisphere. The experts were: Joseph M. Humire, Executive Director of the Center for a Secure Free Society; Ilan Berman, Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council; Douglas Farah, President of IBI Consultants LLC; and Blaise Misztal, Acting Director of Foreign Policy Bipartisan Policy Center. Surprisingly, the Argentine government refused to allow Special Prosecutor Alberto Nisman to travel to Washington and appear for the Washington hearing. By mid-month, Mr. Nisman was able to present his research before the Latin-American Jewish Congress.
WHAT IS TEHRAN LOOKING FOR IN LATIN AMERICA?
Despite its internal problems (impoverishment, dissensions, isolation...,) the Iranian regime maintains an imperialist, Shiite Islamist, and anti-American foreign policy and has been able to find allies in the Americas among governments such as the ones of Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador.
Some of Tehran’s plans include the creation of a U.N. international bloc opposing sanctions against Iran; access to Argentina’s nuclear program, launched in the 1950s and not dismantled until after the fall of the military junta in 1983; and money laundering through Ecuador’s banking system.
However, this does not imply stopping terrorist attacks. In recent years some of these attacks have trails leading to Iran, as the aforementioned ones against Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in the U.S. and the New York airport.
Iran’s Shiite Islamic regime engages in asymmetric warfare against its enemies, particularly against the United States, and more particularly under Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013). One of the ideologues of this kind of war is Jorge Verstrynge, from Spain, invited by Venezuelan authorities to give conferences. To achieve its goal, Iran has managed to forge alliances with other countries with, seemingly, very little in common, such as Latin-American nations ruled by atheists and secular socialists, to be precise, ALBA members (Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and other less relevant countries.) In ALBA, Iran and Canada have observer status. The organization has a common unit of account called SUCRE and its purpose is to replace the U.S. dollar in trade transactions among ALBA members.
Iran has opened new embassies from Mexico to Chile as well as Shiite mosques and it has increased the number of its cultural centers. It has also started a television channel (Hispan TV) and signed bilateral economic and political cooperation agreements with numerous republics – for example, one with Argentina, signed early this year to investigate the AMIA bombing. Iran has also gotten in contact with criminals, such as the Sinaloa cartel, and terrorists such as the Colombian FARC. Similarly, Iran and Hezbollah have tried to settle in regions such as the famous tri-border area between Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina; Margarita Island (Venezuela); El Alto (Bolivia); and the ports of Iquique (Chile), Tacna (Peru) and Colon (Panama), among others.
To those who believe these partnerships and movements among Latin-American reds and Islamists Iranians are not possible, it would be good to remind them of how incredulous Spaniards were in the early 1990’s when the news broke that the Basque terrorist group ETA was advising the Colombian FARC terrorists. About what could ETA, an urban terrorist group, advise the guerrillas in the jungles of Central America?, wondered the creators of opinion. Today it is subject matter in books and court records of Spain’s legal system. ETA had been going to Colombia to teach FARC terrorists and the Cali Cartel hitmen how to make car bombs. FARC has a propaganda and recruitment machine in Europe and America. One of its victims is Dutch Tanja Nijmeijer, who traveled to Colombia for university practices, wrote her thesis on FARC, graduated in the Netherlands only to return to Colombia, where she joined the terrorists and now participates in the negotiations with the government of Bogotá.
Globalization has erased the geographic boundaries, not only for capital and goods, but also for states’ plans to destabilize their perceived enemies. However, it also allows international cooperation and the use of the most powerful technologies. That is why, the government of Peru has announced the purchase of a French satellite to monitor re-emerging terrorist activities, drug trafficking, and illegal mining.
It is true that the alliance among such diverse and distant countries shows precisely its weakness. Any obstacle, such as international pressure, or change of leadership via elections, can break the alliance. For Latin-American countries, that sort of cooperation deals with Iran involves a double risk.
The first risk could be the confrontation with the United States and, as potential retaliation, international isolation as the one endured by Iran and Gaddafi’s Libya. The second one could be domestic weakening by having allowed a foreign power to mount a network of propaganda, agents, and funding in its territory, as well as relations with drug cartels and corrupt officials. Venezuela is already enduring this situation, where terrorist groups sheltered by Caracas, as FARC, have established their own mini-State and drug cartels are taking over pieces of the State. Should any of these countries change government and end the alliance with Iran, the latter could devote its means to destabilize from within the disobedient ally. It would not have the power of the Marxist subversion driven by Cuba in the 60s and 70s, since the only common factor with Havana would be anti-American sentiment, excluding language, ideology, culture, and race; nonetheless, it could create a low-intensity terrorist focus that could establish a state of constant alert for the population and the economy – as in the United States, with the social tensions and economic spending problems with which we are all familiar.
Tehran has the drive of great powers: geopolitical thinking covering a span of decades. By contrast, democratic governments in both the United States and Latin America, such as Peru, Colombia and Chile, develop their goals to cover the span of their mandates, which, at best, cover up to eight years. They cannot leave it to chance if a leader like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad concludes his presidency or if Venezuela’s opposition wins in spite of the State rigging election results.
Although some say there is a new balance of power due to two events that occurred in less than one year—the death of Hugo Chávez and the goodbye of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—favors the U.S., one should temper that optimism. Chavez’s replacement, his Foreign Affairs Minister Nicolás Maduro, is an old Cuba-trained Communist. Besides, Argentina’s growing energy deficit, due to deficient Peronist planning, makes it more dependent on oil and gas supplies from Bolivia and Venezuela. Ilan Berman points out that economic relations between ALBA and Iran do not go beyond the exchange of commodities, but that does not mean that governments such as Caracas, Havana and Tehran are to stop their subversive plans. In totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, economic policy is defined by politics, as demonstrated in the USSR invasion of Afghanistan during the 80’s and the survival of communist Cuba in the 90’s, despite the loss of supplies from Europe’s socialist bloc.
It is hard to believe that the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, might completely dismantle Iran’s diplomatic architecture built in America, especially since Iranian government sectors such as the Revolutionary Guards operate outside any control of the moderates.
The Panama Canal expansion, scheduled for late 2014, together with a huge increase in maritime traffic, the formation of sleeping activist cells, and the issuance of passports by ALBA member-states to Iranian citizens, and the fraudulent use of an existing refugee program in Canada are the roads that can be used to smuggle terrorists and weapons in the U.S. But before they get to the U.S., the terrorists will have convulsed other countries in the hemisphere.
The most effective measures against this threat may be:
• Sharing of information collected by the various U.S. intelligence agencies as well as by those agencies and Canada and other trusted countries in the continent.
• Cooperation with The Pacific Alliance – the economic and political integration agreement signed by Mexico, Chile, Colombia, and Peru. The United States, Spain, and several Central American and Caribbean countries have observer status.
• Promotion of anti-terrorist legislation in the countries where there is none or it is in need of updating.
• Monitoring the passage of ships going through the Panama Canal – the transport means for weapons among the countries of the “Axis of Evil,” as shown by the interception of a North Korean vessel loaded with Cuban weapons.
• Supervision of transfers of scientific and military information among Iran, Venezuela and Argentina to ensure the integrity of the Argentine nuclear program.
• The development of a government strategy that it is not altered due to changes in governments.
• The governments of the Americas must understand the consequences for their stability if they ally with a country like Iran or if they try indifference to Iran’s actions.
• The continental commitment to protection and cooperation for governments that break off or reject perverse relations with Iran.