Wednesday, July 10, 2013

10-Jul-13: So is Iran's growing presence a threat? Depends whom you ask and when

The destruction of the Buenos Aires Jewish center, 1994 [Image Source]
Terrorism is not only not well understood. It's also too often concealed and ignored, usually for political reasons, and always to the detriment of ordinary people. (We're ordinary people, and we feel we know.)

Two weeks ago, the US State Department, in the course of reporting about the activities of the the Islamist regime in Tehran, said
Iranian influence in Latin America and the Caribbean is waning... as a result of diplomatic outreach, strengthening of allies’ capacity, international nonproliferation efforts, a strong sanctions policy, and Iran’s poor management of its foreign relations... While Iran’s interest in Latin America is a “concern,” sanctions have undermined efforts by the Islamic republic to expand its economic and political toehold in the region." [Bloomberg, June 26, 2013]
Not everyone is comforted by State's assessment.

The U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee is chaired by Michael T. McCaul of Texas. It convened a sub-committee meeting yesterday (Tuesday) under the rubric "Threat to the Homeland: Iran’s Extending Influence in the Western Hemisphere", chaired by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC). His opening comments [transcript here] are illuminating:
It is concerning to me that even though Iran has publicly stated that “the promotion of all-out cooperation with Latin America countries” is one of its “top priorities,” and “among the definite and strategic policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” this Administration refuses to see Iran’s presence – so near U.S. borders – as a threat to U.S. security. Last month, the State Department released a report in response to legislation that I authored on the threat to the U.S. from Iran. The unclassified summary found “Iranian influence in Latin America and the Caribbean is waning.” We know that there is not consensus on this issue, but I seriously question the Administration’s judgment to downplay the seriousness of Iran’s presence here at home. [Congressional Transcript]
Everyone's entitled, of course, to think that Rep. Duncan and others like him are talking politics. But he makes a good case for why we ought to be deeply worried, and why the calming tones of the State Dept. are belied by the reports of people with forged passports entering the US and other matters that ought to be read [here] but will likely be ignored.

The Washington Times says
While the State Department found the number of Iranian officials operating in Latin America has increased in recent years... the almost entirely classified document concluded that Iran is not supporting active terrorist cells in the Western Hemisphere. 
But there's one aspect of what happened in the Congress yesterday that should not be ignored, even if we differ on the political analysis. According to the Washington Times article yesterday ["Key witness missing from House hearing on Iranian terror network"], Alberto Nisman, the special prosecutor in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, had been invited to testify. But despite being ready, willing and very able, he was refused permission by his own government.

The background is that Nisman issued a 500-page report in May 2013 on his ongoing investigation into Iranian terrorist activities. He says Iran has spent three decades - since the ayatollahs took control - growing its terror networks throughout Latin America, infiltrating several nations in the region, and preparing to execute future attacks. Nisman’s report says Iran was ‘the main sponsor’ of an attempted attack at JFK Airport in June 2007 that, had it not been thwarted in time, would have killed an untold number of civilians. His years-long probe into the 1994 bombing of the AMIA building has shown “the Iranian presence in the Western Hemisphere is greater than we imagined.”

This all matches up with a State Department report from 2012 asserting that Iran has been steadily enhancing ties with Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela and now Bolivia. Nisman was invited to Washington, it would be fair to say, to refute the State Department findings that assert Iran’s influence in the hemisphere is “waning.”

Argentine prosecutor general, Alberto Nisman. His testimony
in Washington was vetoed in Buenos Aires [Image Source]
But it did not happen. Nisman himself, in a July 1, 2013 letter to the Congress, says that when he was preparing to go to Washington to testify about Iranian terrorism, he was told permission had been refused by the Argentine government. No one from the State Department testified at Tuesday’s hearing.

Nisman's letter deserves exposure. It ends with these words:
Communicating and sharing our conclusions within lawmaking, academic, social, judicial and other domains contributes to raise awareness of the threat posed by international terrorism, and the necessity to combat it with plenty force and exclusively within the limits of the law [General Prosecutor Alberto Nisman's letter to US Congress, July 1, 2013]
Too often, when people with a real grasp of what the terrorists are doing seek to raise awareness, there's a powerful push back by people with politics on their minds. It's a global problem, and all of us - no exceptions - pay the price for it.

UPDATE March 2, 2016: A year and a half after we wrote this post. Alberto Nisman's life ended suddenly in circumstances that raised grave concerns about the cause of death. Today, a major article in The Guardian UK ["Alberto Nisman: testimony of ex-spy chief swings case towards murder"] suggests where the enquiry is going.

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