According to the National Journal, a U.S. State Department source says the terror war against the United States is over. Americans can rest easy, it reassures, with the death of “so many members of Al Qaeda”. No more attacks will be forthcoming.
Ever since former Secretary of State Alexander Haig testified before the U.S. Senate in May 1981 that to end terror attacks the U.S. would have to “go to the source”, there has been widespread disagreement about the nature and origin of terrorism. Even a decade after the attacks of 9/11, and now more than 30 years since Haig’s testimony, Washington has yet to accurately understand who is currently waging war against it and its allies and why. The State Department statement is simply an illustration of this continued confusion.
Facts are stubborn things, said John Adams some two and a half centuries ago. And when considering the facts, a picture of the terror war the U.S. is fighting today comes to light. Iran’s hand is directly involved.
Terror: A State-Sponsored History
Terrorism against the United States for most of the Cold War was directed by the former Soviet Union. Yasser Arafat and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei were all educated at what is known as “Terrorism University”—the Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow.
Wars of national liberation were nothing but organized terrorism directed by Moscow against the free nations of the West and its allies. In the 1980s, the Frente Farabundo Martí de Liberación Nacional (FMLN) was engaged in a campaign of widespread murder against the people of El Salvador. Created by the union of communist guerilla groups under pressure from Fidel Castro, FMLN waged a war against the El Salvadorian population by bombing buses, bridges, and electrical utilities; murdering and kidnapping democratically elected officials; and placing land mines in the coffee plantations of the country to cripple workers, often children. At the time, organizations such as Human Rights Watch convinced themselves that the FMLN were nothing more than agrarian reformers seeking democracy for El Salvador. They should have known better.
The massive mis-education of the American people continues today about the origins of terrorism. As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrote in 1997’s From the Shadows, both Haig and President Reagan were right in their assessment of the Soviets as the primary sponsor of state-directed terrorism. But even today, for example, Wikipedia writes, “neither the Cuban nor Soviet government were significantly responsible for financially and materially backing FMLN.” Soviet-era archives now prove conclusively that the FMLN was a solely owned entity of Soviet and Cuban terrorism.
The naïve and erroneous belief that terrorism directed by the Soviet Union was actually a spontaneous uprising of peasant armies intent upon democratic revolutions lives on in the left’s still fanciful view of modern day terrorism. Whether it be the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Philippines’ Abu Sayef, or even al-Qaeda, the dominant leftist view is that such groups represent legitimate armed struggle against oppression and imperialism, most notably against the United States and Israel. For example, in September 2011 in a roundtable with bloggers on the sidelines of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, former President Bill Clinton assured Americans that most terrorism would disappear should Israel simply agree to establish a Palestinian state.
For years, the U.S. has tended to identify terrorism as solely a function of “al-Qaeda and its affiliates”, unrelated either to Islam or to state-directed terrorism. But it is widely known that the 1983 attacks in Beirut against Marine barracks and the bombing of the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie were Iranian directed, with Syria and Libya as accomplices. What is less known are the connections between the Murrah building bombing in Oklahoma City and the two World Trade Center attacks; they exist. But even more important is the Iranian connection to 9/11. The original Supreme Leader himself, the Ayatollah Khomeini, called for airplanes to be used against America, to fly them into buildings, in a plot called Shaitan dar Attash (Satan in the Fire). The 9/11 hijackers are known as members of al-Qaeda. But one of the key “poisonous coalition members” was Iran’s Supreme Leader Khomeini, and another was Iran’s agent, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Iran’s Creation and Support of Hezbollah
By concentrating too readily on al-Qaeda, Washington loses sight of today’s true terror masterminds. The story of Iran and Hezbollah is a perfect example of this. Hezbollah’s creation began after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and accelerated out of the Lebanese chaos in the early 1980s. Directed by Iran’s Supreme Leader, with key roles by the elite Qods Force and its parent, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as well as in association with the Soviet KGB, Iran helped Hezbollah with personnel, terrorist training, intelligence, logistics, and finances, as well as weaponry. By the mid-1980s Hezbollah was well established, and it now holds positions of power in the Lebanese government. This, even after the Special Tribunal for Lebanon found the terror group guilty of murdering the former Lebanese prime minister in February 2005.
Hezbollah, largely a wholly owned subsidiary of the Iranian IRGC, now has tens of thousands of missiles from Iran, may have chemical weapons transferred to their “safekeeping by Syria”, and has been deeply involved in the training of terrorists for attacks against U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan and in Iraq.
It is a crime family too, engaging in narcotics trafficking and gun running, as well as “blood diamonds” in parts of Africa as it helps fuel warfare there. Businessmen in Lebanon carry back from overseas suitcases full of money—”protection money” paid to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The terror group is also heavily invested in the Western Hemisphere, working with FARC, the drug-running Marxist terrorists that have spent the past 30 years trying to destroy Columbia. A FARC commander’s laptop was captured by U.S. law enforcement where details of a joint Russian-Venezuelan-FARC-Hezbollah terror venture were laid out.
The presence of IRGC/Qods members and commanders of Iran’s intelligence and security agency in Venezuela and Latin America highlight proliferating Iranian narco-trafficking, human smuggling, and terror operations. Such agents have been reported crossing America’s southern border using drug cartel channels. La Isla Margarita, an island off the coast of Venezuela, has become Hezbollah’s primary banking and financial hub in the Western Hemisphere.
Repeated Congressional testimony has also revealed Hezbollah cells now present in the United States, engaging in surveillance, fund raising, and acquisition of military technology. Mexican police broke up a Hezbollah network in Tijuana in 2011. Recent testimony by Southern Command head General Douglas Fraser before the Senate Armed Services Committee highlighted the “growing threat of Iranian-backed terror networks in South America.” Within the last year, a jihadist Hezbollah cell in Mexico was recently found to have a weapons cache of 100 M-16 assault rifles, 100 AR-15 rifles, 2,500 hand grenades, C4 explosives, and antitank munitions. It is also known that Venezuelan officials have helped Hezbollah with fundraising and facilitating the transfer of funds to the terrorist group.
Seeing the Forest for the Trees
These developments obviously are unrelated to any grievances often cited by apologists for the terrorists attacking the U.S. If the American presence in Saudi Arabia, supposedly the casus belli of Osama bin Laden’s 1998 declaration of war against the United States, is now ended, why does terrorism continue? And if the issue was largely the establishment of a Palestinian state, as former U.S. President Clinton asserts, a deal creating such an entity would long ago have been agreed to by the Palestinians and their allies.
Once the U.S. recognizes that terrorism is a tool of statecraft used by governments, intelligence services, and other state entities, it can see that terrorist groups are tools of our mortal enemies rather than loose bands of jihadis seeking to redress historical grievances. And terrorism today, just like in the Cold War, is the most convenient weapon for governments, precisely because it breaks the string of attribution that would otherwise make credible the threat of retaliation and thus make deterrence an effective counter-terrorist tool.
Terror groups and their masters are not fixed, but their aims and goals remain certain. The Iranians wish to establish a hegemonic rule over all Muslims, with the oil and gas resources of the Middle East as the prize. The Sunni Wahhabis seek rule over all of Islam as well. The intelligence services of Pakistan created the Taliban in coordination with the Saudi government for that purpose, as well as to act as a check on the Shi’a of Iran.
Iran seeks nuclear weapons to shift the balance within the Islamic world so that Tehran is seen as “the strong horse.” Such weapons are a game-changer. They then seek to destroy Israel, to be considered the leader of the Islamic world, and to confront and attack the United States, including from bases in the Western Hemisphere. Most worrisome are repeated references to missile deployments in Venezuela capable of reaching Miami. The Iranian Shahab missile can reach Miami from the Venezuelan coast.
Existential Threat to the U.S.
To be sure, individual “soldiers of Allah”, such as Major Nidal Hasan of Ft. Hood, are inspired by Islamic clerics such as the late lamented Anwar al-Awlaki, but such “lone wolfs” do not yet pose an existential threat to the United States.
Unfortunately, too many still see terrorism as primarily unrelated to nation-states. For example, in a May 2011 letter to President Obama, eight House members declared “the terror threat is dispersed and not concentrated in a nation-state.” Similarly, Jacob Heilbrunn of The National Interest declared in August 2010 that terrorism was nothing more than “disparate groups” which are “independent of nation-states” while condemning the focus on nation-states.
But the major threat to the U.S. today involves terror masters such as Iran and its terrorist subsidiaries—those “disparate groups.” For example, if in possession of a deadly arsenal of nuclear weapons, Iran will use its terror network to detonate a nuclear warhead in or above, (in an electromagnetic pulse mode) an American or Israeli city, or both. After all, it was the “moderate” Iranian cleric and former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who warned that the “imperialists strategy will come to a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality.”
This is what the Iranian leadership means when it talks of a “world without the United States” or the “great arrogance.” A nuclear device detonated in an American city might very well force the United States to withdraw from the world, particularly if attribution for the attack were not possible. Lacking attribution, the connection to deterrence is broken, giving Iran a free hand to attack the U.S. That would leave the Middle East region greatly susceptible to the geostrategic stratagems of Iran and its terror partners, as well as Russia and to a lesser extent China. And one should be aware that Iran’s Supreme Leader believes wholesale conflict with the U.S. must occur prior to the return of the Mahdi, or Twelfth Imam. As Cliff May, President of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has wisely warned, “the mullahs may welcome Armageddon.”
After all, once the “genocidal maniacs” in Tehran, as R. James Woolsey describes them, have control over most of the known world’s conventional hydrocarbon reserves, they control the transportation of the modern industrial world; once they control that, they control the economies of the world. The wealth that accompanies such power would, of course, provide the mullahs the nuclear arsenal they seek to stand astride the Middle East as the world’s hegemon and leader of the world’s Muslims.
Realistic? Doable? Fanciful? Maybe. But empire builders and dreamers, especially the totalitarian kind, plunged the world into two world wars, a Cold War, an age of terrorism, and more than 70 years of gulags and concentration camps, where some 200 million people have now perished. And that was largely before they acquired nuclear weapons.
So, the terror wars are over, are they? Has anyone told Tehran or Hezbollah?
PETER HUESSY is the founder and President of the defense consulting firm GeoStrategic Analysis.