Warning signs about a possible upsurge in Iranian activities in Latin America are growing, following the October 7 attack of the Hamas terrorist group against Israel. Experts believe that the spread of anti-Israeli sentiment will strengthen Iran and could boost Hezbollah and other radical groups’ activities in the region.
“Iran’s power as a rival to the United States in the unfolding drama could encourage the expansion of Iranian initiatives to threaten the United States in its own external environment, building on the Ebrahim Raisi regime’s current new engagement with the region, centered on anti-U.S. regimes such as Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua,” defense and Latin American expert Evan Ellis recently told Argentine news site Infobae.
U.S. Army General Laura J. Richardson, commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), also expressed concerns. “We are watching very, very closely. In terms of working with our partner nations, obviously, they’re concerned as well,” Gen. Richardson said in response to a question about possible Iranian attacks in the Western Hemisphere during an October 11 event on China’s challenges in Latin America, the Daily Caller news site reported.
Gen. Richardson applauded the condemnation of these attacks by countries of the region stating that “in terms of indicators and things like that right now as a result, immediate results of the attacks that have taken place, I think we’ve seen the condemnations that have come from the region with respect to the attacks. We will continue to be very prepared and we will be watching the environment very, very closely.”
While Latin America has united against the violence, not all countries have strongly condemned the terrorist attack against Israel. “In the coming months, as Israel seeks to create the conditions for the security of its people in the face of mass murder, its actions may raise concerns. In that context, some Latin American leaders are likely to adopt the cynical rhetoric of moral neutrality […]. This is not acceptable,” Ellis said.
In recent years Iran has attempted to penetrate Latin America, and has tried to expand its influence through disinformation, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist discourse, illicit, and even terrorist activities. Unit 840 of the Quds Forces, a powerful elite paramilitary arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is believed to be responsible for all acts of terrorism and assassinations designed and financed by the Islamic Republic of Iran globally, Infobae reported.
Among its most recent terrorist attempts in the region was a failed plot in late 2021 to assassinate two Israeli businessmen living in Bogotá, Colombia. According to Infobae, the operation was mounted with local manpower and coordinated by Rahmat Asadi, an Iranian terrorist who did global intelligence acting as a paintball player. Thanks to the coordinated efforts between the Colombian government and Western intelligence agencies, the businessmen and their families were able to flee. However, this incident highlighted the global reach and growing activity of Tehran’s terrorism in Latin America.
Another warning sign came months later when in June 2022 a Boeing 747 cargo plane registered to Venezuelan airline Emtrasur Cargo, which formerly belonged to Iranian airline Mahan Air linked to the Quds Force, was detained at Ezeiza Airport in Buenos Aires, several media reported. According to an FBI report, the aircraft’s pilot, Gholamreza Ghasemi is also linked to the Quds Force and Hezbollah. “On the eve of the 28th anniversary of the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center [July 18, 1994] that left 85 dead, the suspicious flights of this cargo plane in Latin America could well be an attempt to plan another terrorist attack,” Sharon Nazarian, vice president for International Affairs of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a U.S.-based Jewish nongovernmental organization (NGO), told Diálogo in late July 2022.
For Nazarian, an Iranian immigrant whose family was forced to flee during the Islamic Revolution, Tehran has been active in Latin America for more than three decades and has eluded justice. “The visit of Mohsen Rezai [who was the IRGC commander at the time of the AMIA bombing] to Nicaragua earlier this year  shows that the masterminds who are under Interpol Red notices can still travel freely in Latin America and can even be received with the highest honors,” Nazarian said.
Exploiting Latin American transit routes
The border area between Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay is considered a center of criminal activity and is home to a dense network of financing for terrorist organization Hezbollah, according to a study by Spain’s University of Navarra (UNAV). This was also confirmed by Nazarian who said that it is the most dangerous area in terms of narcotrafficking and terrorism in the region where “Hezbollah and other Iranian agents have been exploiting [this area] using drug funds to support terrorism, and vice versa.”
According to experts, this is the gateway for Hezbollah’s operations in Latin America, and, by extension, for those of Iran. “Hezbollah has established in the Triple Border one of its headquarters outside the Middle East, given the porosity of those borders and the proximity of Venezuela, where the organization has achieved a prominent space of influence and management of its operations outside Lebanon, with the complicity of the Nicolás Maduro regime,” Spanish newspaper ABC reported. The daily reported that Hezbollah “has woven a dense and sophisticated network of operations and terrorist activities in Latin America, extending to Uruguay, Colombia, and Venezuela.”
Given the danger and threat this border area brings to the security and stability of the region, the three countries of the Triple-Border have taken measures that have allowed them to put pressure on narcoterrorist groups and even resulted in important captures, including members of Hezbollah. According to the UNAV study, the 2018 arrest in Brazil of Assad Ahmad Barakat, an important financial operator of the group and considered one of Hezbollah’s main operatives in the area, was possible thanks to the collaborative work of Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil. According to security and defense experts such as Joseph Humire this capture is considered “a significant milestone in the regional effort against terrorism and transnational crimes carried out by Hezbollah in Latin America.”
Source » dialogo-americas