ASCF Report | 5.1.12*
By Alan W. Dowd
There’s really nothing like the government of Iran anywhere
on earth. Sure, Syria grants
terrorists prime office space in Damascus and Beirut, and the Kim Dynasty of North Korea has dabbled in terrorism
from time to time. But the mullahs who run Iran have normalized terrorism into
a basic government function—just like building roads and schools. Indeed, it
could be argued that the Islamic Republic of Iran is not a regime that happens
to engage in terrorism, but rather a terrorist organization that happens to run
a regime. From its very beginnings, this terrorist tyranny has been at war with
It bears repeating—especially as Washington
dispatches emissaries here and there to negotiate with Tehran
over its outlaw nuclear program—that the Islamic Republic was born amidst an
act of terrorism: the assault on the U.S. embassy and consequent hostage
crisis. Ever since, Iran’s
mullahs have funded, fomented and carried out terrorism, often using proxies
like Hezbollah to do their bidding.
Tehran funnels at least $100
million to Hezbollah annually, and while technically independent, Hezbollah
swears allegiance to Iran’s
Supreme Leader, Ayatollah
Ali Khamenei. Describing Iran as “the most active state sponsor of
terrorism,” a recent State Department report on global
terror notes that Tehran “has assisted Hezbollah in rearming…has provided
hundreds of millions of dollars in support to Hezbollah in Lebanon and has
trained thousands of Hezbollah fighters at camps in Iran.”
Bob Graham, former chairman of the Senate Intelligence
Committee, revealed in 2005 that “Hezbollah has the largest number of agents in
many more than al Qaeda.”
Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, added more
detail to the Iran-Hezbollah mosaic this year, reporting that “hundreds” or “thousands” of Hezbollah agents are in the U.S.
“The American intelligence community,” he
grimly concluded, “believes we are very much
at risk for an attack by Iranian operatives, which would be Hezbollah.”
It pays to recall that Hezbollah already has American blood
on its hands. From Beirut to Flight 847 to KhobarTowers,
this sleeper-cell army has played a role in the murders of some 300 Americans.
It’s worth noting that before September 11, Hezbollah had killed more Americans
than any other terrorist group on earth.
But Hezbollah is just one of Iran’s
terrorist tentacles. Indeed, Iran
has done far more damage to American interests and American lives through its
proxies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Asked in 2004 about U.S.
concerns over Iranian meddling in Iraq,
a high-level Iranian official responded with a vague threat: “They know that if
wanted to, it could make their problems even worse.”
Eight years and countless casualties later, we know Tehran wasn’t bluffing.
At the height of its proxy war in Iraq,
Iran was pouring hundreds of
millions in cash and equipment into Iraq annually to support thousands
of militia fighters. Iran’s
army of guerillas used IEDs, snipers and asymmetric attacks to expand Iranian
influence and bloody the U.S.
The numbers are not precise, but it’s estimated that Iranian-made IEDs killed
or wounded hundreds of American troops. “Those weapons going in from Iran,” Defense Secretary Leon
Panetta conceded last year, “really hurt us.”
Specifically, Tehran provided
what State describes as “lethal support, including weapons, training, funding
and guidance, to Iraqi Shia militant groups that target[ed] U.S. and Iraqi forces.” That lethal
support included rockets, sniper rifles, automatic weapons, and mortars. The
mullahs even enlisted their Hezbollah partners to help the cause: “The Qods
Force, in concert with Lebanese Hezbollah, provided training outside of Iraq as well as advisors inside Iraq for Shia
militants in the construction and use of sophisticated improvised explosive
device technology and other advanced weaponry.”
On the other side of Iran,
in Afghanistan, Iran’s leaders
have made common cause with the Taliban. State reports that the Qods Force—an elite
wing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)—has provided training
to the Taliban on “small unit tactics, small arms, explosives and indirect fire
weapons, such as mortars, artillery, and rockets. Since at least 2006, Iran has
arranged arms shipments to select Taliban members, including small arms and
associated ammunition, rocket propelled grenades, mortar rounds, 107mm rockets,
and plastic explosives.”
Those mortars, those RPGs, those artillery shells, those sniper rifles are
killing American troops, eroding America’s will and strangling the
And now it appears that Tehran is making a lunge into the Western
Hemisphere. During a recent trip to South America, Panetta
expressed concerns about “efforts by the IRGC to expand their influence, not
only throughout the Middle East but also into
this region.” Not coincidentally, Hezbollah is raising funds across South America through drug trafficking, counterfeiting and pirated goods.
Iran’s bizarre plot to subcontract out the assassination of
a U.S.-based Saudi diplomat to Mexico’s Zetas drug cartel is further evidence
of Iran’s increasing recklessness—and decreasing restraint. In what sounds like
something out of a paperback novel, “high-ranking members of the Iranian
government,” according to U.S.
officials, recruited an Iranian-American to serve as a conduit between Iran and what
they thought was a member of the Zetas cartel. Elements of the Qods Force promised
$1.5 million for the assassination of the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. According
to Attorney General Eric Holder, this terrorist hit on American soil was
“conceived, sponsored and…directed from Iran.”
Learning from Reagan
It is this blood-soaked past and commitment to terror that makes Iran’s
neighbors so anxious about its nuclear-armed future. Make no mistake. The
purpose of Iran’s
nuclear program is to build a nuclear bomb. Iran does not need nuclear energy.
It has proven oil reserves of 130.8 billion barrels—enough to meet its current
energy demands for 256 years. To think that the regime that rules Iran could somehow
be deterred or contained once it possesses nuclear weapons is to ignore the
history of the Islamic Republic.
So what should the U.S.
do? Reagan’s presidency offers some helpful ideas.
In 1979, speaking about the Soviet tyranny, Reagan argued
that “a little less détente…and more encouragement to the dissenters might be
worth a lot of armored divisions.” In other words, Washington
should publicly and forcefully press for an opening of Iran’s political prisons, an end to the
dictatorship of the mullahs and the beginning of an Iran that is free and
We know the Iranian regime is politically vulnerable. After
all, the anti-autocracy revolutions of the Arab Spring arguably began in the
Persian nation of Iran.
In the summer of 2009, Iran’s
“Twitter Revolution” nearly toppled Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the mullahs. Although
the West’s failure to support the Persian Spring of 2009 was inexplicable and indefensible,
there still may be an opportunity to encourage the dissenters. A recent RAND study notes that Iranians are “highly reliant on
state-controlled media and educational sources.” RAND suggests that Washington could promote “U.S.
broadcasts to Iran
and the provision of anti-filtering technology to Iranian web users.”
Moreover, just as Reagan sent Stinger missiles to fight the
Soviets in Afghanistan and
fax machines into Poland to aid
Solidarity’s struggle against Moscow’s puppets,
should send satellite dishes, software, laptops, smart phones and other
technology to help the Iranian opposition organize a broad-based movement to
topple their rulers.
The Obama administration is already waging an economic war against the mullahs,
as Reagan did against the Soviets. Iran’s tottering economy—with an
inflation rate of 20 percent—depends on oil revenues. And today, demand for
Iranian oil is sharply dropping, thanks to a European oil embargo as well as decisions
by Japan and China to cut
back on Iranian oil imports.
Moreover, Saudi officials informed a NATO
gathering that the oil-rich kingdom has contemplated flooding the world oil
market, thus pushing the price of oil downward and punishing Iran. The Saudis estimate that an
extra 3 million barrels per day would send prices significantly lower. Washington should encourage Riyadh to follow through on this threat.
On the intelligence front, Reagan used covert actions and
the Soviets’ own contempt for international norms of behavior to undermine the
Soviet system. For instance, when the Soviets engaged in industrial espionage,
Reagan authorized defective hardware and software to be handed off, thus
foiling Soviet objectives. In the same way, Washington should continue covert operations
that target and undermine the Iranian government, like the Stuxnet computer attacks of 2008-10.
On the military front, the next time Tehran threatens to
close the Strait of Hormuz—which, it pays to recall, is a kind of psychological
terrorism aimed at the oil-dependent global economy—or threatens the U.S. Navy
not to enter the Persian Gulf via this international waterway, Washington
should follow the Reagan playbook and order U.S. warships to steam into the
strait and take positions in international waters off the Iranian coast. If Iran makes any
kind of provocative moves, the response should be as swift as when Reagan sent
the Sixth Fleet across Qaddafi’s “line of death.”
Finally, it’s time for Washington
to show Tehran’s
tyrants that two can play the proxy-war game. That was the message Reagan sent
with his aid-to-anticommunists program. The mullahs, like the Soviets, have
many enemies. Some are in neighboring countries; some are in
Iran; some appear to be already
at work targeting the regime. Perhaps some are worthy of America’s quiet
*Dowd is a senior fellow with the American Security Council Foundation, where he writes The Dowd Report, a monthly review of international events and their impact on U.S. national security.