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Column 060313 Brewer

Monday, June 3, 2013

The True Intentions of Iran in Latin America are Questioned

By Jerry Brewer

Much is being reported of Iran “infiltrating” many regions of South America, and many are wondering what the Iranian motives are and what threats they may pose. The fact is that Iran has established 11 embassies and 17 cultural centers in Latin America.

One of the first questions that comes to mind with respect to Iran, identified as the state sponsor of Hezbollah, is why are they aggressively seeking cooperation with Latin American countries by signing security and economic agreements?

Many democratic watchdogs believe that these networks of diplomatic and economic relationships could benefit Iran “to lessen the blow of international sanctions” against them. There are also those that firmly believe Iran’s overly expansive ambitions must be quashed and constricted due to their propensity for acts of terror and support for terrorist agendas.

In separating fact from fiction, does it appear that Latin America should be concerned or justified in questioning the motives of Iran’s enterprising movements? Is there a lack of evidence to justify concerns or a failure to connect the dots?

Starting with the obvious and no disclaimers of such, on March 17, 1992 in Buenos Aires, Argentina terrorists bombed the Israeli Embassy, killing 29 people and wounding 242 others. The Islamic Jihad organization (linked to Hezbollah and Iran) claimed responsibility.

Their stated motive for the attack was Israel's assassination of Hezbollah Secretary General Sayed Abbas al-Musawi in February 1992, “which in turn was in retaliation for the kidnapping and death of missing Israeli servicemen in 1986, and the abduction of US Marine and UN peace-keeping officer William R. Higgins in 1988.” The Islamic Jihad released surveillance footage they took of the embassy before the blast.

On July 18, 1994, a van with a bomb loaded with about 275 kilograms of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and fuel oil explosive mixture, was detonated in front of the five story Jewish Community Center (AMIA) in Buenos Aires. Eighty-five people died, the majority being Jewish. More than 300 others were wounded. Argentina is home to a Jewish community of 200,000, among the largest in Latin America.

In October of 2006, Argentine prosecutors formally accused the government of Iran “of directing the bombing, and the Hezbollah militia of carrying it out.” The prosecutors claimed that Argentina had been targeted by Iran after Buenos Aires' decision to suspend a nuclear technology transfer contract to Tehran.

The U.S. Department of State has reported that Hezbollah is considered to be the most technically capable terrorist group in the world, with “thousands of supporters, several thousand members, and a few hundred terrorist operatives.”  Too, officials state that the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qods Force have been working in concert with Hezbollah “for many years.” The Qods force has a long history of supporting Hezbollah’s military, paramilitary and terrorist activities, providing it with guidance, funding, weapons, intelligence, and logistical support. In 2007, the U.S. Department of the Treasury placed sanctions on the IRGC and its Qods Force for their support of terrorism and proliferation activities.

The U.S. Department of Defense reports that the IRGC and its Qods Force played a significant role in some of the deadliest terrorist attacks of the past two decades, including the 1994 attack in Buenos Aires.

Since the early 1990s intelligence reports suggest “direct Iranian government support of Hezbollah activities in the Tri-Border Area of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.”

It is important to remember that before the September 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S., Hezbollah, not al-Qaeda, was responsible for more American deaths than any other terrorist organization.  A Hezbollah staging ground and safe haven in Latin America is not something the U.S. or its democratic allies should look forward to.

Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff warned that while Hezbollah ‘‘makes al-Qaeda look like a minor league team, it poses the greatest threat to American National security.”

U.S. officials concerned about Iranian terror links in South America briefed Argentina officials last month about the Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in the U.S., for fear the Iranians might carry out similar attacks against U.S., Saudi or Israeli interests in Argentina and other Latin American nations.

It is no secret that Iran has built close associations with leftist leaders in Latin America “who share Iran's anti-American sentiment,” including Hugo Chávez, Venezuela's now deceased past president, and Bolivian President Evo Morales, both of whom called Iran a "strategic ally." Iran also claims it has $1 billion in joint venture deals with Bolivia.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has become a frequent visitor to the region. Iran asserts the signing of 70 joint venture deals, valued at up to $17 billion, in “industries” in Venezuela.  It has also sold drones and other military equipment to Venezuela.  Other Venezuelan military projects with Iran include $23 million for equipment upgrades, and a $3 million for an explosives factory.

Also in Venezuela, in 2007 a Uruguayan navy ship ready to load Iranian munitions in Venezuela was ordered to abort its mission after a Uruguayan congressman, Javier Garcia, “denounced it as an attempt to circumvent an international arms embargo against Iran.”

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Jerry Brewer is C.E.O. of Criminal Justice International Associates, a global threat mitigation firm headquartered in northern Virginia.  His website is located at www.cjiausa.org.


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