Archive for May 8, 2018

Alleged Israeli strike reported in Syria after IDF sounds alarm in north

May 8, 2018

Explosion seen near area south of Damascus previously identified as Iranian base; Syria state media says country’s air defenses intercept two incoming missiles

Today, 11:03 pm

Explosions in Syria’s el-Kisweh region, south of Damascus, on May 8, 2018. (Twitter)

Syrian state media reported on Tuesday night that Israel conducted an airstrike south of Damascus, in an area previously identified as the site of a suspected Iranian military base.

Syria’s official SANA news outlet said that the country’s air defenses intercepted two Israeli missiles over the el-Kiswah area, south of Damascus. The report did not specify how many missiles were fired.

The alleged strike came hours after the Israeli military said it had identified “abnormal movements of Iranian forces in Syria” and called for local governments in the Golan Heights to open their bomb shelters.

It was not immediately clear what was targeted in the strike. Some Arab media outlets reported that a weapons cache was destroyed, others claimed it was communications equipment.

The al-Mayadeen news outlet, which is seen as sympathetic to Hezbollah, reported that fires had broken out in the area following the blasts.

An official with the Iran-led axis of resistance told the Associated Press the strike targeted a Syrian army position and caused only material damage. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give official statements.

Video from the scene, posted on social media, showed raging fires in the direction of the alleged Iranian base.

Following the attack, Lebanese media reported that Israeli jets were flying sorties over the country’s southern coast.

Earlier on Tuesday night, US President Donald Trump announced that the United States was pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and imposing new sanctions on the Islamic Republic, in part due to Iran’s destabilizing activities in the Middle East.

In November 2017, Western intelligence officials told the BBC that Iran had established a permanent military base in el-Kiswah.

A month later, the alleged Iranian base was targeted by an airstrike, which was attributed to Israel.

A satellite image showing the results of an alleged Israeli airstrike on a reported Iranian base being set up outside Damascus, from November 16, 2017 and December 4, 2017. (ImageSat International ISI)

The army on Tuesday night did not instruct residents of the Golan Heights to enter bomb shelters, only for local authorities to open public ones in case of emergency.

A number of reservists were also called up, the army said. An IDF spokesperson would not elaborate on which units they came from, but media reports indicated they served in air defense, intelligence and Home Front Command units.

The Israel Defense Forces said it deployed missile defense batteries in northern Israel and “there is high preparedness of IDF troops for an attack.”

The military called on residents to listen to security instructions as needed.

Following Trump’s announcement, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman met with the heads of Israel’s armed services in the military’s Tel Aviv headquarters to discuss the security situation, his office said.

Earlier on Tuesday, the US Embassy in Israel also prohibited American government employees from visiting the Golan Heights without approval in light of the security situation on the border.

“The IDF is ready and prepared for a variety of scenarios and warns that any action against Israel will be answered with a fierce retaliation,” the army said.

Illustrative. An Iron Dome missile defense system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, is deployed in the Golan Heights near the Israel-Syria border, on March 17, 2017 (AFP / JALAA MAREY)

A video released by the IDF showed soldiers setting up the Iron Dome, Patriot, and Arrow missile defense systems.

The military does not generally reveal its deployment of air defenses. Its decision to do so on Tuesday night was likely an effort to both reassure residents of northern Israel and warn Iran that the IDF was prepared to counter a missile attack.

On Sunday night, Israeli defense officials warned that Iran was planning to retaliate for recent deadly airstrikes in Syria, which have been attributed to the Jewish state, by having its proxies fire missiles at military targets in northern Israel sometime in the near future.

Security forces were also preparing for the possibility of attempted infiltrations of military bases and communities in the north, Hadashot TV news reported on Monday.

Tehran vowed revenge after the T-4 army base in Syria was struck in an air raid on April 9, killing at least seven members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The strike was widely attributed to Israel, though Jerusalem refused to comment on it. (T-4 was the base from which Israel said Iran launched an attack drone into Israel in February.) Late last month, a second strike, allegedly conducted by Israel, against an Iranian-controlled base in northern Syria was said to have killed more than two dozen Iranian soldiers.

On Monday, Iran’s army chief of staff warned that the regime would respond to any Israeli aggression “at an appropriate time,” as the countries continued to trade threats amid spiraling tensions.

“If the enemy casts a covetous eye on our interests or conducts [even] a slight act of aggression, the Islamic Republic will give an appropriate response at an appropriate time,” Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri said according to regime-affiliated Press TV.

On Sunday, all of Israel’s nightly news broadcasts reported that the Israeli military and intelligence services had identified preliminary efforts by Iran in Syria to carry out its reprisal, using its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Hezbollah terrorist group and local Shiite militias to launch a barrage of precision-guided missiles, likely at Israeli military targets in the north.

Illustrative: A Fateh-110 ballistic missile, taken at an Iranian armed forces parade in 2012. ( Commons)

“Israel has recently identified with certainty Iranian preparations to fire at the north,” Channel 10 said. “We are not on the eve of war with Iran… but Iran is very determined to carry out an attack” to avenge the T-4 strike and the deaths of its military personnel, it said.

Israel Radio on Sunday night said the Iranian planning for an attack was at “an advanced stage.”

The understanding in the defense services is that Iran is looking to conduct its retaliation in such a way as to avoid full-fledged war with Israel, and would therefore likely not target civilian locations, according to the reports, which did not attribute the information to any specific source.

Israel was working to prevent or counter such an attack, but was also preparing for the possibility that the Iranians “succeed in hitting a base in the north with missiles,” Channel 10 reported. The Israel Defense Forces was threatening to hit all Iranian targets in Syria if Tehran launched an attack on Israeli territory, the TV report said.

Trump Announces US to Withdraw from JCPOA, video

May 8, 2018

Trump said the U.S. would immediately reimpose economic sanctions lifted under the deal, targeting critical sectors of Iran’s economy such as its energy, petrochemical and financial sectors.

“We will be instituting the highest level of economic sanction. Any nation that helps Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons could also be strongly sanctioned by the United States. America will not be held hostage to nuclear blackmail,” the president warned.

“Those doing business in Iran will be provided a period of time to allow them to wind down operations in business involving Iran,” the White House said. However, “Those who fail to wind down such activities with Iran by the end of the period will risk severe consequences.”

Trump also cited the massive intelligence trove of documents, some 110,000 files, smuggled out of Tehran by Israel’s international Mossad intelligence agency, that revealed the details of Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program.

“At the heart of the Iran deal was a giant fiction: that a murderous regime desired only a peaceful nuclear energy program. Today, we have definitive proof that this Iranian promise was a lie,” he said.

“The JCPOA failed to deal with the threat of Iran’s missile program and did not include a strong enough mechanism for inspections and verification,” the White House pointed out. “The JCPOA foolishly gave the Iranian regime a windfall of cash and access to the international financial system for trade and investment.”

Instead of using the money from the JCPOA to support the Iranian people at home, the regime has instead funded a military buildup and continues to fund its terrorist proxies, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, he said.

Upon conclusion of his remarks, the president signed the proclamation putting his decision into immediate effect.

H/T Peter

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966) End Battle

May 8, 2018





Iran, Angry and Divided, Fears Deeper Crisis if Nuclear Deal Ends

May 8, 2018

By Thomas Erdbrink May 8, 2018 New York Times

Source: Iran, Angry and Divided, Fears Deeper Crisis if Nuclear Deal Ends

{Again, I say this is a not-so-Trump-friendly source.  Regardless, Iran will suffer, but not as much as our soldiers did when blown up by Iranian IED’s – LS}

{UPDATE:  President Trump reinstated all the sanctions and said he will add the most severe sanctions possible.  I suspect the banking system in Iran will be targeted and Iran’s oil income will be cut off.  In other words, their economy will see new lows post haste.  We shall see their reaction as this whole thing is still in motion and will be for some time. – LS}

TEHRAN — The sense of crisis in Iran runs deep and wide. The economy is in free fall. The currency is plummeting. Rising prices are squeezing city dwellers. A five-year drought is devastating the countryside. The pitched battle between political moderates and hard-liners is so perilous that there is even talk of a military takeover.

Now, the lifeline offered by the 2015 nuclear deal, which was supposed to alleviate pressure on Iran’s economy and crack open the barriers to the West, is threatened, too: President Trump is expected to announce that he is withdrawing the United States from the agreement as soon as Tuesday, according to European diplomats.

The chief loser will be the country’s moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, who will now look weakened, foolish and burned for the risk he took in dealing with the Americans. His opponents, hard-liners, will gain influence, analysts say.

But in the long term, the unraveling of the nuclear agreement could be bad news for the entire Iranian leadership, already buffeted by mounting popular dissatisfaction over the economy and a lack of freedoms and prospects. It could be bad news for average Iranians, too.

“We will see more migration, more unemployment, more bankruptcies, more impoverishment,” said Amirhossein Hasani, who once made kitchen equipment but now tries to make a living selling foreign exchange. “Some might think this will lead to regime change, but protests will be cracked down and the government will be able to run the country. We will just get poorer.”

Even before Mr. Trump’s decision, the nuclear deal had not lived up to its promise of economic salvation for Iranians. Mr. Rouhani sold it as the solution to many of the country’s problems. He promised that foreign companies would flood Iran with investment and know-how, bringing jobs and opportunity to millions of unemployed people.

He also said that the compromise would lift Iran out of its international isolation, something illustrated by several airlines restarting connections to Tehran after the deal had been struck.

Students clashed with police officers in riot gear around Tehran University during anti-government protests in December. But the unrest was nationwide.CreditEuropean Pressphoto Agency

But deeper-rooted problems such as uncompetitive investment laws, widespread corruption and arrests of dual nationals by hard-line security forces dampened the boom the president had promised. Foreign businesses showed up in sizable numbers, but balked at the conditions that confronted them.

But what really cut back the potential benefits of the agreement was American sanctions, which have continued to prevent any serious bank from working in Iran. They also prevent almost all normal financial transactions, depriving Iran of much-needed credit and foreign investments.

The return of even broader sanctions in some form could put even more pressure on the economy.

“Someone, please change our fate, whoever, even Trump,” said Ali Shoja, a cleaner who said he can’t afford to support his three sons. “I used to be a driver, now I clean. What’s next? I cannot become a beggar.”

Hard-liners, who have long lost popular support but control security forces, the judiciary and state television, are set to declare victory, since they have always argued that the United States can never be trusted in any deal.

They will use the opportunity to undermine Mr. Rouhani and to try to seize power. But Mr. Rouhani himself came in after eight years with a hard-liner, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at the helm. That both moderate and hard-line approaches have now failed has only deepened the sense of crisis.

Dissatisfaction over state policies is so widespread many wonder if the Islamic Republic and its current ideology are even sustainable, fueling talk of bringing in a military strongman to set things straight.

“This is a big failure for Mr. Rouhani — America has cheated on him by not keeping its promises,” said Jalal Jalalizadeh, a former member of Parliament. “But in the end we are all losers. Now it is clear that only direct and open talks with the United States can ever solve this.”

In fact, a collapse of the nuclear deal doesn’t leave Iran with many options. Iran’s every move will be scrutinized by the United States and Israel, perhaps sparking a military confrontation the country can hardly afford.

A rally against anti-government protesters in January. Hard-liners hope an end to the nuclear deal would reinforce their arguments against trusting the United States.CreditEbrahim Noroozi/Associated Press

Hard-liners say Iran should return to enriching uranium, as it was doing before the nuclear agreement.

“We will break the cement of Arak; we will reopen the heart of the nuclear plant,” Abolfazl Hassan Beigi, a hard-line member of Parliament, told local media, referring to a nuclear site Iran said it has disabled as part of the deal. “The Islamic Republic of Iran will start its nuclear activities again more powerfully than before, which will be a loss for America and its allies.”

But others point out that such moves could invite military action.

“I am for direct talks and transparent talks between Iran and America, the sooner the better,” said Abolghasem Golbaf, an analyst promoting change in the country. The talks should be open, for all to follow, he said. “When they talk secretly, they may make mistakes and nothing can be corrected. Iran and America should sit face to face at negotiation table.”

If the nuclear deal falls apart, Iranians are likely to find plenty of blame to go around, directing anger at both sides in the political deadlock, as well as at the United States. Nationwide protests in December and January — aimed at the entire leadership class — illustrated the depth of Iranian disillusionment.

“We could witness a blind explosion of anger and we will not know the outcome of such an event,” said Davoud Hermidas-Bavand, a professor of international relations who has taught at the National Defense University.

“Many people are ready to support anyone who can provide them some hope,” he said. “But you have to take into account that Iranians are also nationalistic and will definitely not blindly follow countries they view as harmful to Iranian interests.”

Some say they are surprised to even hear people saying they support Mr. Trump, whom they see as someone willing to solve their problems.

“When I sit in the taxi or bus I sometimes overhear common people saying they adore Trump, he at least honors his promises in campaign, they say,” said Ali Sabzevari, a now-unemployed publisher. “Powerless people take resort to a hero, no matter who is the hero — Hitler or Trump, anyone can be their hero.”

Others disagree.

“The common people will hate America more if Trump withdraws,” said Hamidreza Taraghi, a hard-line analyst. “They will face hardship and be poor. They will hate Trump. That’s good

Trump decides to exit nuclear accord with Iran

May 8, 2018


Source: Trump decides to exit nuclear accord with Iran

{May I remind you this is an AP story.  As a result, it will not be too flattering of Mr. Trump.  That being said, now…let’s really talk. – LS}

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump plans to follow through on his campaign threat to pull out of the landmark nuclear accord with Iran, according to two people familiar with his thinking, dealing a profound blow to U.S. allies and potentially deepening the president’s isolation on the world stage.

Trump’s decision means Iran’s government must now decide whether to follow the U.S. and withdraw or try to salvage what’s left of the deal. Iran has offered conflicting statements about what it may do — and the answer may depend on exactly how Trump exits the agreement.

The 2015 pact itself does not contain any provisions for leaving, but Trump was expected to re-impose most, if not all, of the sanctions on Iran that were eased under the deal. That would erase the economic benefits promised to Iran under the deal and be tantamount to the United States walking away.

It wasn’t immediately clear which sanctions would be slapped back on Iran and how quickly. But grace periods of a few months to half a year are expected to be granted so that businesses and governments can wind down operations that would violate re-imposed U.S. sanctions, the individuals said.

A slower withdrawal process could allow more room for Trump to reverse course later and decide to stay — if he secures the additional restrictions on Iran that European nations tried unsuccessfully to negotiate to prevent him from withdrawing. Indeed, as administration officials briefed congressional leaders about Trump’s plans Tuesday, they emphasized that just as with a major Asia trade deal and the Paris climate pact that Trump has abandoned, he remains open to renegotiating a better deal, one person briefed on the talks said.

The agreement, struck in 2015 by the United States, other world powers and Iran, lifted most U.S. and international sanctions against the country. In return, Iran agreed to restrictions on its nuclear program making it impossible to produce a bomb, along with rigorous inspections.

In a burst of last-minute diplomacy, punctuated by a visit by Britain’s top diplomat, the deal’s European members gave in to many of Trump’s demands, according to officials, diplomats and others briefed on the negotiations. Yet they still left convinced he was likely to re-impose sanctions.

Macron was to have a conference call with British Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel about half an hour before Trump’s announcement.

Trump spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron and Chinese leader Xi Jinping about his decision Tuesday. Macron vigorously supports the deal and tried to persuade Trump to stay committed to it during a visit to Washington last month.

The British Foreign Secretary traveled to Washington this week to make a last-minute pitch to the U.S. to remain in the deal, according to a senior British diplomat. The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the British objective will remain to uphold and maintain the deal.

Hours before the announcement, European countries met to underline their support for the agreement. Senior officials from Britain, France and Germany met in Brussels with Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs, Abbas Araghchi.

If the deal collapses, Iran would be free to resume prohibited enrichment activities, while businesses and banks doing business with Iran would have to scramble to extricate themselves or run afoul of the U.S. American officials were dusting off plans for how to sell a pullout to the public and explain its complex financial ramifications, said U.S. officials and others, who weren’t authorized to speak ahead of an announcement and requested anonymity.

Building up anticipation, Trump announced on Twitter he would disclose his decision at 2 p.m. at the White House.

In Iran, many were deeply concerned about how Trump’s decision could affect the already struggling economy. In Tehran, President Hassan Rouhani sought to calm nerves, smiling as he appeared at a petroleum expo. He didn’t name Trump directly, but emphasized that Iran continued to seek “engagement with the world.”

“It is possible that we will face some problems for two or three months, but we will pass through this,” Rouhani said.

Under the most likely scenario, Trump would allow sanctions on Iran’s central bank — intended to target oil exports — to kick back in, rather than waiving them once again on Saturday, the next deadline for renewal, said individuals briefed on Trump’s deliberations. Then the administration would give those who are doing business with Iran a six-month period to wind down business and avoid breaching those sanctions.

Depending on how Trump sells it — either as an irreversible U.S. pullout, or one final chance to save it — the deal could be strengthened during those six months in a last-ditch effort to persuade Trump to change his mind. The first 15 months of Trump’s presidency have been filled with many such “last chances” for the Iran deal in which he’s punted the decision for another few months, and then another.

Other U.S. sanctions don’t require a decision until later, including those on specific Iranian businesses, sectors and individuals that will snap back into place in July unless Trump signs another waiver. A move on Tuesday to restore those penalties ahead of the deadline would be the most aggressive move Trump could take to close the door to staying in the deal.

Even Trump’s secretary of state and the U.N. agency that monitors nuclear compliance agree that Iran, so far, has lived up to its side of the deal. But the deal’s critics, such as Israel, the Gulf Arab states and many Republicans, say it’s a giveaway to Tehran that ultimately paves the path to a nuclear-armed Iran several years in the future.

Iran, for its part, has been coy in predicting its response to a Trump withdrawal. For weeks, Iran’s foreign minister had been saying that a re-imposition of U.S. sanctions would render the deal null and void, leaving Tehran little choice but to abandon it as well. But on Monday, Rouhani said Iran could stick with it if the European Union, whose economies do far more business with Iran than the U.S., offers guarantees that Iran would keep benefiting.

For the Europeans, a Trump withdrawal would also constitute dispiriting proof that trying to appease him is futile.

The three EU members of the deal — Britain, France and Germany — were insistent from the start that it could not be re-opened. But they agreed to discuss an “add-on” agreement that wouldn’t change the underlying nuclear deal, but would add new restrictions on Iran to address what Trump had identified as its shortcomings. Trump wanted to deter Iran’s ballistic missile program and other destabilizing actions in the region. He also wanted more rigorous nuclear inspections and an extension of restrictions on Iranian enrichment and reprocessing rather than letting them phase out after about a decade.

Negotiating an add-on agreement, rather than revising the existing deal, had the added benefit of not requiring the formal consent of Iran or the other remaining members: Russia and China. The idea was that even if they balked at the West’s impositions, Iran would be likely to comply anyway so as to keep enjoying lucrative sanctions relief.

Although the U.S. and Europeans made progress on ballistic missiles and inspections, there were disagreements over extending the life of the deal and how to trigger additional penalties if Iran were found violating the new restrictions, U.S. officials and European diplomats have said. The Europeans agreed to yet more concessions in the final days of negotiating ahead of Trump’s decision, the officials added.


IDF chief cancels engagements due to “operational discussions”  

May 8, 2018

Source: IDF chief cancels engagements due to “operational discussions” – DEBKAfile

IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gady Eisenkot Tuesday called off his public engagements. This was explained by the urgent need for “operational discussions.” He was due to address the annual Herzliya conference Tuesday night.

Iran in the US Backyard

May 8, 2018

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (left) meets with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on August 27, 2016 in Caracas, Venezuela. (Image source: Euronews video screenshot)

by Judith Bergman May 8, 2018 at 5:00 am Gatestone Institute

Source Link: Iran in the US Backyard

{You ever get the feeling the world would be a better place without Iran’s current regime? It’s long past time we enforce the Monroe Doctrine. – LS}

Iran and Hezbollah have been operating in Latin America since the 1980s, effectively undisturbed. During this time, Iran and its proxy, the terrorist organization Hezbollah, have been Islamizing Latin America, seemingly to create a forward base of operations for the Islamic Republic in the backyard of the United States.

No Latin American country has designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization: Hezbollah can operate with relative impunity there. In April 2017, a Hezbollah operative, Mohamad Hamdar, arrested in Peru, was acquitted of all terrorism-related charges. The Peruvian court found that Hamdar’s role within Hezbollah was in itself insufficient to consider him a terrorist[1]. This legal vacuum regarding Hezbollah might also be why Islamic terrorism, drug-trafficking and organized crime in the region is frequently underestimated.

According to testimony at a United States House of Representatives panel hearing on Iran’s global terrorism network on April 17, 2018, Iran and Hezbollah have converted and radicalized thousands of Latin Americans to Shia Islam. In some Latin American countries, such as Venezuela, Iran’s and Hezbollah’s efforts have even been promoted by local political elites. Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami — of Lebanese and Syrian origins and with ties to both cocaine trafficking and Hezbollah — oversaw the illicit sale and distribution of at least 10,000 Venezuelan passports and other documents to persons from Syria, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries. These reportedly included Hezbollah terrorists and members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. More than a decade ago, a US congressional report warned that Venezuela was providing support to radical Islamic groups, including the supply of identity documents. El Aissami could, in the foreseeable future, become president of Venezuela.

Not only has Latin America’s passive acceptance of Iranian infiltration also allowed the Islamic Republic to create large networks of mosques and cultural centers across the region; in addition, Iran and Hezbollah operate in multiple areas and across multiple sectors, both licit and illicit, apparently to strengthen and expand their influence in Latin America and to enrich Hezbollah as a way to finance its growing terrorist and paramilitary activities.

These areas of operation encompass diplomacy, commercial enterprise, religious dominance, and perhaps most significantly, substantial criminal activity. Iran has employed diplomacy to evade sanctions imposed on it before the Iran “nuclear deal.” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then president of Iran, visited Latin America six times during 2005-2012, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif went on a tour of six Latin American nations in 2016. These diplomatic efforts resulted in, among other things, access to the use of Venezuelan territory to advance Iran’s solid rocket-fuel production.

Culturally, Iran has helped Hezbollah establish itself as the dominant force among Shia Muslim communities throughout the region, and has taken control of their mosques, schools and cultural institutions. In 2012, there were 32 Iranian cultural centers across Latin America the purpose of which is to facilitate the spread of the Iranian Islamic revolution; today, less than a decade later, the number of centers has grown to more than 100. Among other ways of presumably spreading its influence, Iran also runs a Spanish-language 24-hour news broadcast, HispanTV — operated by IRIB, Iran’s state-owned public broadcasting corporation — which broadcasts across Latin America.

Hezbollah has become a substantial international crime syndicate, which utilizes its position in Latin America to deal in drug trafficking, weapons trafficking, human trafficking, trade in counterfeit goods and money laundering, the proceeds of which it uses to finance its activities.

Drugs, such as cocaine, are funneled into the United States to be sold there. Some investigators believe that Hezbollah amasses $ 1 billion a year from its criminal activities, which involve close cooperation with Latin American drug cartels and criminal syndicates. Together, these create havoc in Latin America and contribute to driving immigration into the United States. One expert recently described Hezbollah as “the gold standard” of the crime-terror convergence.

In 2008, the US began a secret law enforcement project, Operation Cassandra, to stop Hezbollah’s activities in Latin America. According to an exposé in Politico, however, the Obama administration obstructed that operation:

“In practice, the administration’s willingness to envision a new role for Hezbollah in the Middle East, combined with its desire for a negotiated settlement to Iran’s nuclear program, translated into a reluctance to move aggressively against the top Hezbollah operatives, according to Project Cassandra members and others.”

After Israel’s revelations on April 30, 2018, that the Iran deal was based on Iranian lies, it is probably safe to conclude that the Obama administration empowered Iran and its proxy in Latin America to ensure the Iran deal, which has apparently turned out to be nothing but a smokescreen for Iran’s nuclear plans.

Having a seasoned and generously state-funded terrorist organization such as Hezbollah in the US’s backyard unsurprisingly poses a genuine threat to the US homeland. According to Emmanuel Ottolenghi, speaking at the April hearing on Iran’s global terrorism networks:

“A survey of cases prosecuted against Hezbollah operatives in the past two decades shows that the terror group remains a threat to the security of the U.S. homeland and the integrity of its financial system. Iran and Hezbollah sought to carry out high casualty attacks against U.S. targets multiple times. Additionally, they built networks they used to procure weapons, sell drugs, and conduct illicit financial activities inside the United States.

“operatives blend in; they nestle within existing expatriate communities; they find spouses; and set up seemingly legitimate businesses, acquiring permanent residency and citizenship in the process – all attributes that are part of their cover story”.

One recent example of Hezbollah operatives in action in the United States was the arrest of Samer El Debek and Ali Mohammad in New York. Both held US citizenship and had been trained by Hezbollah — including in the use of weapons such as rocket-propelled grenade launchers and machine guns — and acted on its behalf in the US. The two were charged with serious terrorism charges, such as conducting surveillance of potential targets in America[2].

The question is, whether the US government will adopt a comprehensive strategy to counter the ongoing efforts of Iran and Hezbollah to solidify their base of operations in Latin America against the United States and US interests. Such a strategy, as pointed out by several experts at the April 17 hearing, does not currently appear to be in place.

Judith Bergman is a columnist, lawyer and political analyst.

[1] The prosecution appealed and Hamdar will be tried again this year on the same terrorism charges in the Peruvian Supreme Court. If convicted he will be the first Hezbollah operative to be sentenced in Latin America, amounting to a de facto designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist group in Peru.

[2] These included military and law enforcement facilities in New York City, as well as conducting missions in Panama to locate the U.S. and Israeli Embassies and to assess the vulnerabilities of the Panama Canal and ships in the Canal.