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The Mullahs in the Americas

Yes, Iran’s growing regional footprint represents a real significant threat.

by
Jaime Daremblum

Bio

March 21, 2012 - 12:00 am
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We don’t have to speculate about Iran’s willingness to carry out a terror attack in a Latin American country. Two decades ago, in March 1992, Tehran orchestrated a Hezbollah bombing at the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29. Then, in July 1994, Iranian agents conspired with Hezbollah to bomb a Jewish community center in the Argentine capital, killing 85. So you can understand why Latin American governments are deeply concerned about Iran’s burgeoning regional presence in general and its alliance with Chávez in particular. Memories of the Buenos Aires atrocities are still relatively fresh.

Third: The Iranian push into Latin America has already damaged regional stability and exacerbated geopolitical tensions. For example, it has augmented the enormous Venezuelan military buildup, which is being financed mainly by Russia and is threatening to unleash a regional arms race. Last spring, the German newspaper Die Welt reported that the Iranians were constructing rocket bases in Venezuela. Earlier this month, according to the U.S. News & World Report blog DOTMIL, the head of U.S. Southern Command, Gen. Douglas Fraser, told reporters that Tehran is also hoping to build military drones for Caracas — specifically, “fairly limited-capacity” unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). “I would put it in the Scan Eagle class of UAV,” said General Fraser. It was just a few years ago that Chávez was sending thousands of troops to the Colombian border and talking of a possible war. Imagine how much more aggressive his regime might be with sophisticated Iranian weaponry.

Speaking of aggression, many commentators still assume that Iran would be wary of conducting terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. But is that really a safe assumption? As Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a Senate committee in late January, the Saudi assassination plot suggests that “some Iranian officials — probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei — have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime.” We might also observe that Iran and Venezuela were recently accused of considering cyber-attacks against the United States.

On March 7, Vice President Joe Biden told CNN en Español that “Iran will not be able to pose a hemispheric threat to the United States.” Indeed, Biden offered a “guarantee” that this would not happen. We can only hope the Obama administration reinforces that guarantee, not with more words but with a robust strategy for countering Iranian activity in Latin America.

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Jaime Daremblum, who served as Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United States from 1998 to 2004, is director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute.
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