It is no secret the Iranians are trying to export their own brand of influence across the Middle East. They are supporting the Assad regime in Syria during the bloody civil war there are trying to establish bases near the border with Israel. Tehran and their proxy terrorist group Hezbollah are preparing for their next foray against the Israelis and they’ve been rattling their sabers openly about it.
In a report on SOFREP from Travis Allen on July 14, Hezbollah launched 4000 rockets into Israel in the 2006 war. Now after being bled dry in the Syrian civil war, they’re ready for the next battle. The Iranians have built underground bunkers for Hezbollah rocket factories and they’re threatening one of the US’ staunchest allies in the region. But this isn’t the only place the Iranians are peddling their influence. And it is much closer to the US border in Latin America.
Since the 1980s the Iranians have been steadily building their presence in Latin America from just a handful to 12 diplomatic missions in the region. In 1992 at the Israeli Embassy and again in 1994 at the Jewish Community Centers (AMIA) in Buenos Aires, clear evidence linked Iran and Hezbollah to the bombings of those facilities, yet they were allowed to grow with impunity. The bombing in Buenos Aires killed 89 and wounded 300 in what was the worst terrorist attack in Argentine history.
In testimony only months after the attacks, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism expressed concern that Iranian embassies in the region were flooding their missions with far too many “diplomats”, and it is believed that many of whom were believed to be intelligence agents and/or terrorist operatives.
In 2015 chief prosecutor Alberto Nissman who investigated the AMIA bombing died under suspicious circumstances. Nisman, the special prosecutor who had been investigating the AMIA bombing for over a decade, filed a complaint against then Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and some officials in her administration for covering up Iran’s involvement in the attack.
Four days later, Nisman was found with a bullet in his head. His testimony before the Argentine Congress about the alleged cover-up had been scheduled for the following day.
In a 2016 interview, Treasury Department and Hezbollah expert Matthew Levitt who also the Director of the Washington Institute of Counter-Terrorism and Intelligence stated that:
FBI, CIA, Interpol, and other documents about terrorist activity in Brazil, which warned that Mohsen Rabbani, an Iranian intelligence agent who worked closely with Hezbollah to carry out the 1992 Israeli Embassy and 1994 bombings in Buenos Aires, “frequently slips in and out of Brazil on a false passport and has recruited at least 24 youngsters in three Brazilian states to attend ‘religious formation’ classes in Tehran.” In the words of one Brazilian official quoted by the magazine, “Without anybody noticing, a generation of Islamic extremists is appearing in Brazil.” Hezbollah reportedly has expanded its criminal activities in Brazil as well to include shipping fraud, involving containers that enter Brazil at the port of Sao Paulo and disappear on their way up the river to the Tri-Border Area.
The Tri-Border Area is the lawless area of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina where drug trafficking and counterfeiting run rampant. The Hezbollah operatives are blending into the numerous Shia and Lebanese communities in the area.
Hezbollah thru the Iranians are heavily involved in the drug business and a 2011 DEA report stated that a ring that was broken up had laundered over $200 million thru the Lebanese Canadian Bank where monies were used to fund the Islamic Jihad Organization, which is Hezbollah’s terrorist wing.
However, since the bombings in Argentina, the Iranians and Hezbollah are keeping a low profile in Latin America, especially in the Tri-Border Region. Iran claims it is only trying to grow its trade with the region while leftist governments of Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Bolivia have vigorously welcomed Iran’s new influence in Latin America. Many of these countries are hostile to continuing US influence and have welcomed the Iranians in an attempt to thumb their nose at Washington. Especially in Venezuela prior to Chavez’s death and Bolivia.
The Spanish Language television station “HispanTV” has since 2012 carried the news from Tehran and its Islamist message to millions of viewers across the region. While conversion rates to Islam continue to be small, there is the concern that the message to entice some youth over to more radicalized views will ultimately occur.
Iran’s presence in Latin America developed over the course of four sequential stages:
Cultural – building of schools, mosques and “Cultural Centers”
Diplomatic – established diplomatic posts as a cover, solidified presence in the region
Economic – Illicit trade (drug smuggling, money laundering) to circumvent UN sanctions
Military – Money was used to help missile building programs and fund terrorism
And while Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif went on a six-nation tour and openly denigrated America, he espoused his beliefs that the US would go out of its way to encourage other nations to do business with Iran. He was correct. Then Secretary of State John Kerry visited Europe to encourage banks and companies to again do business with Iran. Outwardly under the Obama administration, the attempt was to downplay the growing Iranian presence in the region.
The new regime in Washington under President Trump will have to navigate the waters carefully. He was vehemently opposed to the Iran nuclear deal and his government could open the door for new sanctions against Tehran. The Colombian peace accord with FARC was a blow to Tehran as the leftist terror group was openly allied with Hezbollah. This peace pact besides disarming the rebel group may prevent further infiltration of Iranian influence in the area.
Trump’s inaugural address promised to eradicate radical Islamic terrorism “from the face of the earth.”
Perhaps a good place to start is close to home where Hezbollah has operated networks that have bought political influence among local powers, allied with organized crime, and has had financial dealings with both. The US has long advocated that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism, and their proxies Hezbollah have certainly lived up to that distinction in the Middle East. Placing harsh financial sanctions on the banks and countries complicit in Hezbollah’s dealings is the only way to counter their efforts in the region.
Otherwise, the specter of more terrorism, this time closer to, if not in the United States is a distinct possibility.