Iranian and Hezbollah terrorist cells in Latin America are a threat to retaliate against United States and Israeli interests in the western hemisphere in the event Israel launches an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. Congressman Michael McCaul (R-TX), Chairman of the Homeland Security Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee, emphasized the threat upon his return from a counter-terrorism fact-finding mission to Mexico and South America.
"The threat of terrorism against Israel, the United States and our interests in the western hemisphere is as real as ever," said Chairman McCaul, who led a bipartisan delegation to the region. "The presence of Iran and Hezbollah in Latin America, and their influence in the region, has increased dramatically. While these are primarily finance cells that fund terrorist operations in the Middle East, I believe they are capable of becoming operational in the event Israel attacks Iran's nuclear facilities, and Iran retaliates."
The delegation met with government and security officials in Mexico, Colombia, Paraguay and Argentina, and in the South American tri-border region of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. Chairman McCaul expressed concern about discrepancies between various agencies regarding the threat level. Rep. McCaul believes the threat level is underreported.
The tri-border region is home to an estimated 30,000 people of Middle East origin. Corruption throughout the region's justice system prevents prosecution of suspects believed to be involved with lucrative money laundering operations that funnel an estimated two percent of revenue to Hezbollah operations in the Middle East.
"With 40 percent of our exports going to the Americas, Latin America is not only our neighbor but also our close economic partner. Our exports to the Americas are growing faster than our trade with the rest of the world, so this relationship is one that is integral to the future of both our regions," said Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security's Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security. "As the U.S.'s relationship with Latin America continues to grow and deepen, we must ensure that we are working together to confront security threats to our hemisphere and engaging in a partnership that addresses security needs as well as economic ones."
Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) and its Qods Force, partnering with Hezbollah, are responsible for deadly attacks against the United States and our allies dating back to the bombing of the American embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, as well as the AMIA Jewish Community Center bombing in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1994.
Iran's plot last year to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington also included plans to attack Israeli and Saudi embassies in Argentina. Evidence that the IRGC attempted to hire a member of a Mexican drug cartel to carry out the plot exposed the nexus between these Transnational Criminal Organizations and has heightened concerns that Iran and Hezbollah operatives could use cartel smuggling routes to enter the United States undetected.
Earlier this year, James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, predicted the possibility of attacks on American soil. Clapper testified that Iran's leaders "have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime."
Chairman McCaul, who also serves on the Foreign Affairs Middle East Subcommittee, has introduced legislation that would designate the IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
Traveling with Congressman McCaul were Congressmen Cuellar, Tom Graves (R-GA), Jeff Duncan (R-SC) and Robert Turner (R-NY).