Tehran’s Long Arm: America Needs Vigilance Against the Iranian Regime’s Threats

Last month, the video of an event at Houston’s Islamic Education Center raised concerns, with children pledging allegiance to the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as they sang, “One day when you need me, I will be your martyr.” The same month, Hamburg’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution accused the Islamic Center Hamburg (IZH) of being under Tehran’s control and striving to “export the Islamic revolution.” Although the Iranian regime is well-known for the blood its armed proxies have spilled in the Middle East, from Yemen’s Houthis to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, we should be under no illusion: Tehran’s long arm in the West is real and the threats it poses require greater awareness and vigilance.

Iran, the world’s leading state-sponsor of terrorism, antisemitism, and Holocaust denial, has never shied away from exporting its violent agenda and action to the United States. Tehran’s failed 2011 plot to assassinate Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir at a Washington restaurant also involved subsequent bomb attacks targeting Israeli and Saudi embassies in the U.S. capital. A decade later, in New York, four members of an Iranian intelligence network were indicted for conspiring to kidnap Iranian-American dissident Masih Alinejad, as part of a plot to forcibly render her to Iran. The previous week’s arrest of a suspect with an AK-47 rifle staking out Alinejad’s home and this week’s charges against an Iranian operative for a plot to murder a former U.S. national security advisor are grim reminders of Tehran’s relentless efforts to pursue its terror campaign on U.S. soil.

As of this writing, we are learning of an apparent attack on author Salman Rushdie in Western New York, who has been the subject of death threats from the Iranian regime for decades. Originally issued in 1989, Tehran continues to promote the death threat through tactics such as posting multi-million-dollar rewards to motivate people to act. The threats to Rushdie loom as yet another example of the regime’s malign influence and ability to act in the U.S. and around the world.

Europe has also had its fair share of Iranian terrorism over the decades. In June, Turkish and Israeli intelligence foiled an Iranian attempt to kidnap and assassinate Israeli tourists in Istanbul. Hezbollah’s 2012 bombing of a bus in Bulgaria’s Burgas Airport killed the driver and five Israelis and injured 32. Two decades earlier, Iranian operatives assassinated four Kurdish dissidents in Berlin on the orders of the Iranian supreme leader and president at the time. It is therefore no surprise that German officials watch closely Iran-linked organizations and networks, such as Hamburg’s IZH. In June, German authorities ordered Seyed Soliman Mousavifar, the Deputy head of the IZH, to leave Germany within three months due to contact with terrorist organizations. The same month, Hamburg’s Antisemitism Commissioner Stefan Hensel called for the IZH to be closed.

Iran’s track record in Latin America offers further proof that Tehran and its proxies are indiscriminate in their targeting of innocent lives. Hezbollah’s 1992 Israeli Embassy and 1994 AMIA Jewish community center bombings in Buenos Aires remain the worst terror attacks in the country’s history, with the latter alone killing 85 people and injuring over 300. Since then, Iran and its proxies have expanded their footprint in the Tri-Border Area of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, pursuing sanctions evasion, narco-trafficking, and money laundering.

The suspicious flight patterns and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-linked crewmen of an Iranian-turned-Venezuelan cargo plane Argentinian authorities grounded on June 8 provide further evidence that Tehran has spent the last three decades deepening its illicit networks in the region. The Department of Justice’s August 2 request for Argentinian authorities to seize the plane — owned by Iran’s sanctioned Mahan Air until its hand over to the Venezuelan state-owned Emtrasur in January — is a welcome step for enforcing U.S. sanctions and export control laws.

The United States should remain vigilant against not only potential terrorist plots Iranian operatives and proxies could carry out on American soil but also the institutions and networks through which Tehran attempts to recruit sympathizers and build logistical hubs. The web of cultural centers, educational institutions, media outlets, and publishing houses Iran has built in Latin America and the antisemitic conspiracies and anti-Israel disinformation campaigns Tehran’s Spanish-language propaganda channel HispanTV has pushed out show the patient and sinister strategy the regime has been pursuing in the Americas.

As nuclear negotiations resume in Vienna, the international community continues to deploy a range of sanctions aimed at limiting Iranian (and its proxies’) nefarious activity. But attention must be paid to less overt actions outside the Middle East, within the very same countries sitting around the negotiation table. The Iranian regime’s murderous plots, and the impunity its operatives, proxies, and local accomplices have enjoyed in Europe and the Americas over the last four decades require a concerted effort to keep Tehran’s long arm away from the innocent victims it has in its crosshairs. Law enforcement agencies should keep a close eye on Tehran’s attempts to build local loyalist networks and recruit sympathizers for the regime’s campaign of terror.

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Jonathan Greenblatt

Jonathan Greenblatt

CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League