FPI Fact Sheet on Iran’s Growing Non-Nuclear Threats

October 3, 2013

I.  Iran’s Support for Terrorism

The U.S. State Department designated the Islamic Republic of Iran a “state sponsor of terrorism” in 1984.

  • The elite Qods Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC-QF) actively trains, arms, and assists terrorists and violent extremist in the Middle East and other regions.  As the U.S. Treasury Department stated in August 2010:  “The IRGC-QF is the Government of Iran’s primary arm for executing its policy of supporting terrorist and insurgent groups.  The IRGC-QF provides material, logistical assistance, training and financial support to militants and terrorist operatives throughout the Middle East and South Asia.”
  • The United States has imposed sanctions on the IRGC’s Qods Force for actively supporting terror groups in the Middle East.  As the U.S. Treasury Department stated in October 2007:  “The Qods Force, a branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, provides material support to the Taliban, Lebanese Hizballah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.”

Iran supports terrorist organizations and terrorist activities not only in the Middle East, but also in other regions.

  • In October 2012 Manssor Arbabsiar, a naturalized U.S. citizen, pled guilty to participating in an Iranian-backed murder-for-hire plot against a Saudi diplomat in the United States.  As the U.S. Justice Department stated in May 2013:  “From the spring of 2011 to October 2011, Arbabsiar and his Iran-based co-conspirators, including members of Iran’s Qods Force, plotted the murder of the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the U.S.”
  • Iran has expanded its influence in Latin America, including efforts to support violent extremists.  In a May 2013 report, Alberto Nisman, General Prosecutor in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, accused Iran “of infiltrating Latin-American countries, building local clandestine intelligence stations designed to sponsor, foster and execute terrorist attacks, within the principles to export the Islamic Revolution.”
  • Iran also has supported terrorist activities in Asia, Europe, and Africa.  In May 2013, the U.S. State Department’s annual Country Reports on Terrorism noted: “In 2012, Iran was implicated in planned attacks in India, Thailand, Georgia, and Kenya.”

In recent years, Iran supported violent extremists who actively targeted U.S. troops, diplomats, and civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq.

  • The United States has documented Iran’s arms assistance to the Taliban in Afghanistan.  In May 2013, the U.S. State Department’s annual Country Reports on Terrorism assessed:  “Since 2006, Iran has arranged arms shipments to select Taliban members, including small arms and associated ammunition, rocket propelled grenades, mortar rounds, 107mm rockets, and plastic explosives.  Iran has shipped a large number of weapons to Kandahar, Afghanistan, aiming to increase its influence in this key province.”
  • Senior U.S. military officials have acknowledged that Iranian-supported militants killed U.S. troops in Iraq.  As Admiral Mike Mullen, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in July 2011:  “Iran is very directly supporting extremist Shia groups which are killing our troops [in Iraq]....  [T]hey are shipping high-tech weapons in there—IRAMs [Improvised Rocket-Assisted Munitions], EFPs [explosively formed penetrator]—which are killing our people.  And we have—and the forensics prove that.”

II.  Iran’s Support for Rogue Regimes

Iran and its terrorist proxies have a long history of cooperating with the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.  In May 2013, AEI’s Critical Threats Project and the Institute for the Study of War reported:  “The Assad regime has provided crucial access to Iranian proxies, including Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, allowing Iran to move people, weapons, and money to these groups through Syrian territory.  Iran has provided support to Syria’s chemical weapons programs, including the deployment of Iranian scientists, the supply of equipment and precursor chemicals, and technical training.  Syria has been Iran’s strategic partner in deterring Israel from attacking Iran’s proxies or its nuclear program.”

Iran and its Lebanon-based terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, have provided the Assad regime with key military and intelligence support during the Syrian conflict.  As Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen said in June 2013:  “Iran’s IRGC-QF has led these efforts, working with Hizballah to train Syrian government forces and establish and equip a pro-Assad militia in Syria that has filled critical gaps in Syria's military.”

  • A senior IRGC commander admitted that Iranian Qods Forces were on the ground in Syria.  The Wall Street Journal reported in September 2012:  “Maj. Gen. Mohamad Ali Jafari, the IRGC’s commander in chief, acknowledged at a news conference that members of its elite Qods Forces were in Syria to assist and train Syria’s regime.”
  • Iran has given the Assad regime billions in financial assistance.  As the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Karim Sadjadpour wrote in August 2013:  “Since the tumult began in Syria, Iranian financial largesse has been ever more critical.  In January 2013, Syrian state media announced a $1 billion ‘credit facility agreement’ with Iran.  Five months later, Syrian officials announced that Iran would provide Damascus an additional $3.6 billion line of credit ‘to finance the purchase of petrol and associated products.’”
  • Iran has provided the Assad regime with arms and other military equipment.  As former Director of Central Intelligence R. James Woolsey told Congress in April 2013:  “Iran has reportedly stepped up its military support to the regime, according to Western diplomats and an intelligence report.  The types of weapons being sent range from communications equipment to light arms and advanced strategic weapons, as well as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and surface-to-surface ballistic missiles.  The weapons are being sent using Iranian civilian aircraft flying through Iraqi airspace and also using Lebanon’s airport.  These flights reportedly occur on an almost weekly basis, and each carry about five tons of arms.”
  • Iran has deployed members of its domestic Law Enforcement Forces (LEF) into Syria.  As the U.S. Treasury Department stated in June 2011:  “Commonly referred to as Iran’s national police, the LEF has provided material support to the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate and dispatched personnel to Damascus in April to assist the Syrian government in suppressing the Syrian people.”
  • The United States has imposed sanctions on Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), the Islamic Republic’s primary intelligence agency, for aiding and assisting Syria’s General Intelligence Directorate (GID), the Assad regime’s main civilian intelligence service.  As the U.S. Treasury Department stated in February 2012:  “MOIS, like the IRGC-QF and the Iranian LEF, has provided financial, material, or technological support to the Syrian GID....  MOIS has provided substantial technical assistance to the Syrian GID for the purpose of assisting the Syrian regime in its violent crackdown on protesters.”
  • Iran and Hezbollah have also aided pro-Assad militia groups in Syria.  As the U.S. Treasury Department stated in December 2012:  “These militias have been instrumental in the Assad regime’s campaign of terror and violence against the citizens of Syria.  [The pro-Assad militia group] Jaysh al-Sha’bi was created, and continues to be maintained, with support from Iran and Hizballah, and is modeled after the Iranian Basij militia, which has proven itself effective at using violence and intimidation to suppress political dissent within Iran.”

Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Iranian-backed Hezbollah, openly committed his fighters to defeating Syria’s opposition in May 2013.  During a televised speech, Nasrallah said:  “This battle is ours, and I promise you victory....  If Syria falls in the hands of the takfiris and the United States, the resistance will be trapped and Israel will enter Lebanon.  If Syria falls, the Palestinian cause will be lost.”

  • Hezbollah fighters were critical to the Assad regime’s June 2013 military offensive to regain control of Qusayr, a key strategic city in Syria near the Lebanese border.  As the Wall Street Journal reported in June 2013:  “The fight for Qusayr has come to symbolize how Syria's civil war has expanded into a transnational, sectarian struggle:  Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militant Lebanese Shiite group, sent hundreds of fighters to battle there alongside government forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.”

Iran and North Korea have cooperated to improve each other’s ballistic missile capabilities.  As the Institute for Science and International Security’s David Albright told Congress in April 2013:  “Since the 1980s, North Korea has helped Iran produce its own short, medium, and long-range ballistic missiles.  But Iran has also informed North Korean efforts, purportedly helping it with its first successful long-range missile launch in December 2012.”

  • Iranian support played an important role in North Korea’s successful long-range missile launch in December 2012.  As MIT’s John S. Park wrote in December 2012:  “Further technical analysis is likely to show that North Korea’s recent success was rooted in Iran’s orbital launch of its Omid satellite atop the Safir satellite carrier in February 2009.  This landmark event was itself likely facilitated by Russian missile cooperation with Iran in the 2005 period.  Under the innocuous title of ‘civilian scientific and technological cooperation,’ the North Korea–Iran agreement [of September 2012] provides a conduit for Pyongyang to access earlier Russian inputs into the Iranian program.  Of particular significance to North Korea is Russia’s proven long-range missile technology.”

Iran has expanded ties with Sudan, a country designated a “state sponsor of terrorism” by the U.S. State Department in 1993.   In July 2012, the U.S. State Department’s annual Country Reports on Terrorism noted that Sudan “has maintained a relationship with Iran.  In 2011, President [Omar al-]Bashir and the Sudanese Ambassador to Iran both met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to discuss bolstering political and economic ties between Khartoum and Tehran.”

  • The elite Qods Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has reportedly used Sudan as a platform for assisting proxy groups.  As the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy’s Jonathan Schanzer and Laura Grossman wrote in June 2012:  “Over time, the Islamic Republic has leveraged its economic and military support to conduct covert activities inside Sudan, largely its support to its Palestinian surrogate groups. Tasked with this responsibility is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF), Iran's special operations unit, which has likely forged relationships with elements inside the Sudanese government and security forces to ensure its sensitive operations run smoothly, and that Iran maintains plausible deniability.”

III.  Iran’s Internal Oppression

The United States has criticized the Iranian regime’s continuing and widespread violations of human rights.  In April 2013, the U.S. State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices noted that “[t]he most egregious human rights problems were the government’s severe limitations on citizens’ right to peacefully change their government through free and fair elections; restrictions on civil liberties, including the freedoms of assembly, speech, and press; and the government’s disregard for the physical integrity of persons whom it arbitrarily and unlawfully killed, tortured, and imprisoned.”

  • The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s annual report listed Iran among worst violators of religious freedom, writing:  “The government of Iran continues to engage in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including prolonged detention, torture, and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused.”
  • In May 2013, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that the Iranian regime uses a concerted strategy “to silence independent coverage of public affairs,” adding that Iranian authorities were holding at least 40 journalists in prison, the second-highest total in the world.
  • Freedom House estimated that a total of “approximately 800 Iranian dissidents including journalists, rights defenders, and political activists remain unjustly detained in Iran.”  Freedom House’s 2013 report Freedom in the World rated Iran “not free,” writing: “The Iranian government continued to curtail political freedoms and violate civil liberties in 2012, imposing particularly harsh conditions on journalists, civic activists, human rights defenders, women, and minorities.  The authorities stepped up restrictions on the internet and suppressed demonstrations related to the worsening economic situation.  The U.N. special rapporteur on Iran was again denied access to the country during the year, and leading opposition figures remained in detention.  The tightly controlled March parliamentary elections amounted to a contest between rival factions within the conservative leadership.”

Iran cracked down on widespread protests after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed June 2009 presidential election, and has kept under house arrest Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and other opposition figures.  As Human Rights Watch wrote in February 2013:  “The announcement of [Ahmadinejad’s] victory set off huge protests in Tehran and other cities, which the authorities violently suppressed, followed by arrests and show trials of journalists, government critics, and opposition activists linked to the campaigns of [former presidential candidates Mir Hossein] Mousavi and [Mehdi] Karroubi.”

  • The Iranian regime subsequently took further actions to limit the public’s freedom of expression and public access to information.  As Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2013 report assessed:  “The 2010 Computer Crimes Law is freighted with vaguely defined offenses that effectively criminalize legitimate online expression; the law also legalizes government surveillance of the internet.  In January 2012, the authorities unveiled new regulations that oblige cybercafé owners to record the personal information and browsing histories of customers.  The first phase of a national intranet, aimed at disconnecting the population from the global internet, was launched in September [2012].”
  • The United States imposed sanctions in response to Iran’s June 2009 crackdown.  In November 2012, the U.S. Department of the Treasury imposed targeted sanctions on individuals and entities in Iran “who have engaged in censorship or other activities with respect to Iran on or after June 12, 2009, that prohibit, limit, or penalize the exercise of freedom of expression or assembly by citizens of Iran, or that limit access to print or broadcast media.”

Violence against dissidents and civil society have continued under President Hassan Rouhani.  As The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake reported on September 27, 2013, that the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center in New Haven “has counted 31 recent state executions, according to official and unofficial sources, between Sept. 11 and 25 of this month....  In some cases, a group of Sunni Kurds were sentenced to death for ‘warring with God,’ a serious crime in the Islamic Republic of Iran that, in the past, has been used as a pretext to arrest opponents of the regime.”

  • Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman described Iran’s internal “acts of aggression” as creating “a culture of fear” in the country.  As Under Secretary Sherman said in May 2013:  “Such oppression has included the harassment and intimidation of family members of those who speak out for freedoms, the torture of political prisoners, and the limitation of freedom of expression and access to information.  These acts of aggression have created a culture of fear in which few dare to voice dissent or challenge regime officials.”

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