By Clare Lopez:
While much attention lately has rightly been focused on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the mullahs have also been busy elsewhere—especially in America’s own backyard. During Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s two-term presidency, Iran has expanded its activity in the Western Hemisphere to an alarming degree.
Tehran has found hospitable terrain among some of Latin America’s most anti-American regimes, including in Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela. The jihadist regime’s hundreds of commercial, diplomatic and security ventures across the region not only help it break out of isolation, evade U.S. and international sanctions and forge relationships that provide access to needed resources, but also gain a foothold for Iranian intelligence, military and terrorist operations within striking distance of the American homeland.
Since Ahmadinejad took over the Iranian presidency in 2005, his administration has expanded Iran’s diplomatic facilities in Latin America from five to 11 and set up 17 “cultural centers.” Every one of these provides cover slots for operatives of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Quds Force and intelligence service (MOIS – Ministry of Intelligence and Security).
Their job is to manage relationships with narcotrafficking, organized crime and terrorist organizations. Riding the vector of a bourgeoning Lebanese Shi’ite immigrant population in South America dating to the 1970’s, Hizballah has made the region a focus of its attack plotting, fundraising, money laundering, proselytizing, recruitment and terror training activities.
Evidence also is mounting that Hizballah cells, with members in the hundreds, increasingly are working in cooperation with Mexican drug cartels, sharing terrorist expertise with them, and moving northward, across the border and up into the U.S. and Canada.
Reza Khalili, a former IRGC officer and CIA spy, says that IRGC units are running operations out of U.S. mosques and Islamic Centers. Toronto authorities have just discovered antisemitic, jihadist passages from Iranian sources in public school textbooks.
To date, though, U.S. leadership, fixated on negotiating Iranian compliance on nuclear issues, has been reluctant to see Iran’s Western Hemisphere activities as the critical national security threat that they are.