Iranian President Ahmadinejad has been traveling, looking for someone who would recognize him as the legitimate head of government. Most Iranians certainly don’t, and his stock is pretty low in his own region. So he flew to South America, from Brazil–where President Lula was very friendly–and continued to Venezuela to visit his co-conspirator Hugo Chavez. He arrived to considerable pomp, but the military band at the airport played the pre-revolutionary (i.e., the shah’s) anthem, which could not have pleased the little leader.
But the alliance with Chavez is working well, which troubles one of the best men on the continent, Alberto Nisman, Argentina’s courageous prosecutor who has indicted Iranian and Hezbollah leaders for the 1994 bombing of the Buenos Aires Jewish Social Center. Nisman appeared at an event sponsored by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (where I hang my cloak), and warned about the Iranian penetration of Latin America.
He said that Iran, particularly through Lebanese proxy Hizbullah, has a growing presence in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, using techniques it honed in Argentina before the country took measures to counter Teheran following the AMIA bombing.
He described sham operations involving taxi drivers, who conducted surveillance without arousing suspicion; fake medical school students, who could stay in the country for many years without raising eyebrows; and business fronts that helped funnel cash to operatives.
Meanwhile, the Iranians cultivated ties at the local mosques to search for people who could be radicalized.
It’s a template developed in Lebanon, where Hezbollah is now the dominant political force, and we had better pay attention, because it is undoubtedly being applied here. Hezbollah cells were already present in the United States back in the 1980s, when I was privy to such information.