Far away from the spotlights – that are generally trained on Iran’s nuclear program – Iran continues to persistently establish its grasp in the backyard of the “Great Satan” (the United States) – South America. Outgoing Iranian President Ahmadinejad placed particular importance on this effort, while taking advantage of his relationship with the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, as well as the leaders of Nicaragua and Bolivia to promote policies and establish practical programs. Iran and Hezbollah’s foothold in South American countries provides it with a convenient springboard for terrorist and drug activity – narcoterrorism – inside the US, as was exposed during the planned assassination of the Saudi Ambassador in the United States.
Iran and the revolutionary countries in South America, who are positioned at two different ends of the world, share a revolutionary vision, which the present as being shared, despite the vast historical and cultural differences between them, in order to create a new world hegemony upon the ashes of what they define as American dominance. Chavez saw himself as the successor of 19th century revolutionary Simón Bolívar, “The Liberator” of Latin America from the Spanish conquest. At the same time, Ahmadinejad did not miss a single opportunity in his meetings with Latin American officials to present Iran and other countries that hold anti-American ideology in South America and Africa as a proper and just (Islamic) alternative to the US and the “collapsing capitalism” as a leader of the “free world.”
Iran is constantly seeking international and regional recognition of its power and ability to affect regional issues (the Syrian crisis, Iraq, Afghanistan, stability/downfall of regimes) and international issues (nuclear, oil and gas prices, vessel security in the Persian Gulf – Straits of Hormuz). As part of this effort, it is trying to present the US with a new balance of powers, one of which involves activity in Latin America – its backyard, to counter the far-reaching US presence around Iran – in the Persian Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and the Persian Gulf.
Iran is exploiting its ever-stronger ties and shared interests with Latin American countries to deploy it’s the game pieces familiar from the Middle East and African courts, where it is extremely active in subversive and propaganda activity (dissemination of Shiite Islam), terrorism and smuggling (drugs, weapons) – right on the doorstep of the “Great Satan.”
These infrastructures, which Iran is preparing in advance may serve it use on “D Day” to act against the US itself or against American / Jewish / Western interests in Latin America, through a variety of scenarios: if Iran’s nuclear facilities are attacked by Israel and/or the US, to initiate crises against the US (perhaps like the Cuban missile crisis), and if its sense isolation and being under siege increases. In the meantime, Iran is also exploiting its relative proximity to the US to illegally infiltrate (through Mexico) the US and is even laying the groundwork for terrorism infrastructure within the US.
The expanding and increasing Iranian activity is not unknown to the US. In recent years, a long list of players in the intelligence arena, State Department, military, DEA and others have been warning of a sharp increase in Iranian activity and influence in Latin America as well as of the negative short-term, moderate-term and long-term impacts of this activity for US citizens and its Latin American allies.
One major indication of the depth of American understanding of the increasing threat by Iran in Latin America is reflected in a cable sent by then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the start of 2009 to all US embassies in Latin America. The cable, disclosed by WikiLeaks states that Iran is attempting to forge close relationships with South American countries in order to break its increasing political isolation and become close with leftist countries that Iran perceives as partners in its anti-American political doctrine. The cable further stated that one of the major manifestations of this cooperation is the freedom Hezbollah operatives enjoy in their fundraising and ongoing activities, and their perception of Venezuela as a safe haven in which they can operate uninterruptedly. Later in the cable, the US State Department sent a long series of questions – Priority Intelligence Requirements – PIR to its embassies, which perhaps more than anything indicate the increasing concern in countries from Iran’s expanding activity in Latin America and of (Washington’s) desire to map the details of this activity in its backyard.
It should be emphasized that the breadth and depth of the issues in the cable indicate that the intelligence gathering agencies and various enforcement organizations in the US have already accumulated vast information on Iranian activity and the former Secretary of State was asking to further focus the information.
In mid-July 2013, the US convened a congressional hearing during which the updated report on Iranian activity in South America was presented. The report resulted from a bipartisan bill, the Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act, signed into law by President Obama in January. The findings of the report were largely confidential, but its unclassified sections stated, among other things, that “Iran has increased its outreach to the region working to strengthen its political, economic, cultural and military ties. Iranian interest in Latin America is of concern. Iran has serially failed to live up to its international obligations and is a State Sponsor of Terror.
In May 2013, Argentine Special Prosecutor Alberto Nisman, published a comprehensive report of over 500 pages on Iranian activity in South America and its terror networks there. He was invited to present his findings to Congress in the aforementioned hearing, but the Argentine government prevented him from going. This could be due to the government’s decision to reopen the investigation into the bombings of the Israeli Embassy and the Jewish community building (AMIA) and to involve the Iranians in the effort.
Iran is exploiting hesitancy in Washington and in Buenos Aires to promote its activities and deploy its terror network in South America, both as part of its desire to expand and become a world power that challenges the US and to lay the groundwork for a response through terror should its nuclear facilities be attacked.
The evidence gathered by American intelligence agencies on Iranian activity is vast, but the political willingness to translate them into a tangible response is lacking at this time and prove to be insufficient when Iran decides to leverage the assets it has acquired and transform them into terrorist activity against the US in the spirit of the planned assassination of Saudi ambassador in the US without taking into account the fallout to US citizens during such an operation. At the current time, decision-makers in Washington have chosen to push this evidence aside in order to avoid creating cause for a head-on confrontation with Iran, particularly after the presidential elections and the rise of “moderate” Rouhani.
Iran is persistently and diligently deploying its weapons on the global chessboard and is waiting for the opportunity to surprise. These infrastructures, some of which are already prepared and some of which are in process, will have a double meaning if Iran manages to acquire nuclear weapons and use them under the guise of the nuclear umbrella.