By Representative Matt Salmon
Two weeks ago, in the U.S. House of Representatives, two important events took place. First, in a strong, bipartisan vote of 400-20 the House voted to further apply sanctions on Iran in a bid to increase pressure on the regime amid its continued attempt to acquire a nuclear weapons capability. Secondly, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, led by the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere which I chair, held a hearing on the recently released State Department Report on Iran's activities in the Americas.
Each of these events brought together a rare thing these days in Congress: Republicans and Democrats joining forces in a strong bipartisan showing of Americans united against an enemy that still means to do us, our neighbors and our staunchest allies, harm.
And all of this is occurring just days before the inauguration of the newly elected, and supposedly moderate, Iranian President-elect Hassan Rouhani. Although his style may be less brash than his predecessor, I think it's important to keep in mind that he has made it clear that he shares a worldview that is very similar to Supreme Leader Khamenei and the other more radical elements in Iran.
With Iran, we truly find ourselves at a crossroads. Experts differ on when, but not if, Iran will attain a deliverable nuclear weapon. Our best ally in the Middle East, Israel, certainly cannot afford to wait for that moment to arrive as this poses for them an existential threat. But keep in mind, in the eyes of the mullahs and the more radical elements in Iran and her proxies, Israel is the "little Satan" but America is the "great Satan." Do we really think that Iran would not, through their slow but steady infiltration of the anti-American elements in such undemocratic countries in our region as Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia, attempt to do us harm as well?
Our hearing was convened to examine that very question. The "Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act" was passed in December of last year, and at that time there was reasonable expectation that the State Department would draft a thorough and thoughtful report in response to legitimate concerns that Iran and its proxies maintain influence and a growing presence throughout the Western Hemisphere.
Unfortunately, the State Department issued a dismissive report that lacked the depth and seriousness warranted by this very important national security issue. The unclassified State Department Annex to the report concluded that Iran's influence in the region is "waning," and based that assessment on several unfulfilled economic agreements between Iran and some of the hemisphere's anti-American (Bolivarian) aligned countries. Nowhere did the report consider what most security experts agree is Iran and its proxy Hezbollah's ability to slowly and methodically establish inroads necessary to launch acts of terrorism, as they did in Argentina while planning the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building. Therefore, citing the lack of an imminent Iranian or Hezbollah threat provides little comfort to those of us who are dedicated to our nation's security and the wider hemispheric security concerns.
Moreover, both Republican and Democrat members of the committee expressed their concerns that the report failed to give proper consideration to the fact that the ALBA-bloc countries that have welcomed increased Iranian diplomatic presence over the past several years - Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela -- have been undermining democratic institutions in their respective countries - creating exactly the type of environment, complete with vitriolic anti-Americanism and a stranglehold on liberty, that makes for an ideal breeding ground for Iranian adventurism.
ALBA is a Spanish acronym that, in Englsih, means the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America.
Indeed, previous similar hearings have confirmed concerns that through S'hia mosques and cultural centers, Iran and Hezbollah use their dupes and allies in the ALBA-aligned countries in our hemisphere to launder money and finance their terrorism operations all over the globe. So, their operations here don't just endanger us but also threaten our allies and our diplomatic efforts worldwide.
Recently I asked officials at the State Department responsible for the report to come to the Congress to answer the many questions my colleagues and I have about their dismissive report. I convened this hearing jointly with the Middle East Subcommittee to continue digging deeper into the nature of the threat posed by Iran and its proxies' presence so close to our homeland. The American people rightfully expect their representatives to take the security of our nation seriously. I believe the threat from Iran in our hemisphere is real and current, and our hearing along with passage of the bill deepening the sanctions on Iran, are important steps in countering that threat.