As the deal with Iran is being scrutinized by the U.S. Congress, an opportunity opens up to discuss what has not been discussed during the negotiations.
During the negotiations over Iran’s program the P 5 + 1 related to Iran as a tabula-rasa country seeking nuclear weapons. In this equation Iran’s behavior and Iran’s geo-political ambitions were left out even as the Islamic Republic supported polarizing Shiite sectarianism in Iraq, the Assad regime in Syria and the Houthis in Yemen. This caused major instability in Iraq and worked to depose an America-friendly government in Yemen. Iran’s support for the Syrian regime’s viciousness strengthened the hand of ISIS. By displaying this behavior Iran helped reinforce the power of ISIS in the region and weakened the democratic forces operating in the Levant. Of course, this is without even mentioning the aid Iran provides to Hamas and Hezbollah, their traditional allies and proxies.
Dennis Ross, who served the Obama Administration in its first term and is not known for holding hawkish views, stated:
“the release of 150 billion dollars in oil sales and frozen accounts to Iran within six months, even if Iran “uses 90 to 95 percent of that to meet domestic needs, it is inconceivable that the Revolutionary Guards won’t receive a payoff that they can use for aggressive purposes”.
Senior administration officials have argued that Iran will use this money to give a boost to Iran’s frail economy. This assumption comes from the very Western naïve concept that President Hassan Rouhani needs to win the next parliamentary election scheduled to take place in February and therefore an injection of populism will be inevitable.
However, Iran is not a democracy that feels accountable to its citizens. Iran is a state whose very revolutionary identity is defined by an expansive and aggressive foreign and military (terrorist) policy. Regardless of the moderate discourse of Rouhani and the charming smile of his foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran has a revolutionary Islamist Supreme leader that stands above these two. In addition Iran is known for their powerful Revolutionary Guard that operate like a state within a state and is mainly responsible for the brutalization of Iranian policy.
If in an optimistic scenario, we assume that only 5% goes to “military” activities, we are talking about 8 billion dollars, more than double the amount of annual U.S. foreign aid to Israel, which has the mightiest army in the Middle East.
In addition, Iran will benefit from the lifting of the international arms and missile embargo after 5 to 8 years regardless of Iran’s (non-nuclear) bad behavior. This compromise was achieved under strong pressure from Russia that is eager to sell arms to Iran.
If we put all the equations together, there is a significant advantage to Iran in the realm of asymmetric warfare and subversive strategy, regardless of the nuclear agreement.
This warfare, of course, might not only extend to the Middle Eastern countries mentioned above but also to Latin America.
Venezuela is now a highly repressive state in plain sight. It is a supporter of drug cartels, an ally of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and of course of Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah. Since we have reported these connections on a number of occasions there is no need to repeat the arguments here.
Venezuela receives advice on repressive tactics from Cuban officers, an issue by the way not raised by the U.S. in the negotiations over normalization with the Castro regime. But Iran also plays a role in sustaining the Venezuelan regime, seen by Iran as a very helpful partner in the Western Hemisphere.
It is obvious to assume that the Iranians and the Revolutionary Guards would be more interested in supporting the Venezuelan government because the benefits they get from the Venezuelan regime represent a great asset to Iran.
Let us remember that the Venezuelan banking system helped the Iranians avoid some of the sanctions imposed on it and enabled the movement of Iranian money.
As the Venezuelan government faces a major economic crisis, severe popular discontent, and a crisis of legitimacy that can be only overcome through repression and fraud, it makes sense that Iran may come to Venezuela’s aid. In other words, if in the past Iran was receiving assistance from Venezuela and its allies in Latin America to avoid the sanctions and world embargo, Iran now will be able to reciprocate by helping strengthen a decaying illegitimate state such as Venezuela, mainly by supplying the means and assistance to assure the regime’s survival.
If this is the case the entire Latin American region will suffer from a revival of chavismo that only pledges dictatorship and oppression. By the same token, the hands of the FARC (a natural ally of Hezbollah protected by the Venezuelan umbrella)) could be strengthened and it could be more difficult for the Colombian government to reach an agreement on the government’s terms.
Most recently publications again and again seem to confirm the presence of Iran in Latin America whether in the form of a terrorist presence, uranium dealings with Venezuela, assisting in establishing a military school to train guerrillas, and other activities. Dexter Filkins more recently in The New Yorker describes how Iran through Venezuela was able to reach to Argentina in an effort to push Argentina to rescind the extradition requests for high Iranian officers involved in the 1994 attacks against the Jewish community Center (AMIA) in Buenos Aires. Likewise, it persuaded Argentina to sign a memorandum of understanding with Iran that would basically help absolve the Iranians by making them partners in an investigation in which they are the main suspects.
It was through the leadership of Venezuela that Iran was able to penetrate and infiltrate more countries. Iran could strengthen such a helpful ally by helping the Venezuelan regime survive. Russia, that helped Iran press the Americans and European powers to display flexibility on the lifting of the arms embargo against Iran, will also continue to supply weapons to Venezuela; possibly by with the help of Iran’s new influx of money.
Thus, Iran’s presence in Latin America could be reinvigorated and thus all the Hezbollah activities including drug trafficking, money laundering and terrorist cells are likely to further increase. Filkins also suggests that Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor in the AMIA case who was apparently murdered a day before he had to testify in Congress against Argentine President Cristina Kirchner and others – – was assassinated by special Iranian forces in charge of assassinating political opponents in exile.
Robert Satloff, Executive Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy incisively observed that according to the text of the recent agreement with Iran, signatories cannot re-introduce or re-impose the sanctions and likewise are banned from “imposing discriminatory regulatory and procedural requirements in lieu of the sanctions and restrictive measures covered by the [agreement].”
Satlloff suggests that no further sanctions could be imposed against Iran other than for nuclear violations. This may mean that for terrorist activity, drug trafficking activity, training of terrorists, support for subversion, and other violations of security or human rights, Iran cannot be punished through sanctions.
If indeed this is the case, Iran may be the only country in the world whose illegal activities have the stamp of approval of six major international powers.
Iran’s vindication could have serious implications in Latin America. The debate around Iran cannot merely be about delaying a nuclear program or based on the expectation that the regime may fall in 15 years or whether the breakout time is two months or one year. Iran’s scoundrel behavior cannot be excluded from the equation.
The alliance between Iran and some Latin American countries has potential dangers. Latin America is part of the Western Hemisphere, the place where America lives, the place where we are located.
Iran needs to be treated as the rogue state it is and Congress and the White House need to develop a strategy that prioritizes Iran’s entire scope of activities; both nuclear and non-nuclear.
THE AMERICAS REPORT
NANCY MENGES and
LUIS FLEISCHMAN, Editors
The Americas Report is the featured product of the Center for Security Policy‘s Menges Hemispheric Security Project. It features in-depth, original articles on subjects not regularly covered by the American press.
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