Iran took center stage at the GOP presidential debate last week. Three of the four candidates adamantly spoke of Iran as an imminent threat, while Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas)’s opinion set him apart as the usual contrast. Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum passionately spoke of the need to strengthen our military and acknowledge Iran as a serious threat, while Paul pleaded for withdrawal of our troops or a formal declaration of war.
This is not unusual, nor was it a surprise; there is continual disagreement and controversy surrounding the issue of Iran. Recently, there seems to be heightened concern over Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presence in South America, specifically Venezuela. This is very troubling because from a distance, many feel Iran could never be a real threat to the U.S., but from our neighbor’s land in Latin America, Iran could be an imminent and immediate danger to us, especially if they have nuclear weapons.
The Heritage Foundation reported back in December on the Iranian president’s activities in Venezuela and the noticeable ties forming with the extreme leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. At the beginning of this month, Congress held a vital hearing to discuss the potential for the Iranian regime to use its increasing influence in the Western Hemisphere, and ties with extremist operations located there, as a vehicle to attack the U.S. Some concerns were of Ahmadinejad’s recent tour of Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Ecuador, and the alliances Iran has formed with Hugo Chavez, Manuel Ortega, Raul Castro, and Rafael Correa. They also addressed the increase of Iran’s Quod’s forces and intelligence service in Latin America, as well as terrorist activities in the recent past conducted via Latin America such as the assassination attempt in the U.S. of the Saudi Ambassador last October. A Venezuelan diplomat, who actually became the Venezuelan consul in Miami, was discovered to be part of this plot and thankfully deported.
Two weeks after the House Committee hearing, the Senate’s Foreign Relations Sub-Committe heard testimony from Douglas Farah, a senior fellow, at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, on his research and findings on Iran’s presence in Latin America. Farah outlines financial, recruitment, and business activities between Iran and its Latin American allies that he describes as “not economically rational,” and the evidence that points to these activities as ways to avoid sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program and to support terrorist activities. He also describes the joint shipping lines Iran has established with Ecuador and Venezuela, which is particularly troubling as Iran has consistently used its national maritime carrier to advance its missile program and transport other military cargo.
Farah also gives evidence of Iran’s increased mining activities in Latin America of minerals that have possible weapons of mass destruction use. In addition, the Latin American countries known as the Bolivarian states consisting of Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador, appear to be promoting political acceptance of the possibility that they acquire a nuclear weapon. Leaders Evo Morales of Bolivia and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela have both visited Tehran. After this hearing, the Senate issued public statements warning the Bolivarian states of their strengthening ties with Iran, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FLA.) stated, “The leaders of these [Latin American] countries are playing with fire.”
Whatever the disagreement may be, there can be no denying the severe and immediate danger posed to all Americans if the Bolivarian states open their doors and their land for use by Iran.
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