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 America.

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 the U.S., 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 Iran 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 Afghan government.

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 self-governing.

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, the U.S. 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 support.

*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.