Iran gains ground in South America as Biden admin pursues nuclear deal

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Iran has sought to increase its influence in South America and undermine American interests and security without getting any response from the Biden administration trying to salvage the Obama-era nuclear deal with the country.

“The Iranian Revolutionary Guards are much more involved in subversion and assassination,” James Phillips, senior foreign policy fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told Fox News.

Phillips pointed to a 2011 plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in the Georgetown, Washington, D.C. area, noting that Iranian agents sought to work with a Mexican drug cartel to carry out the plot on US soil.

“That was over 10 years ago…it’s been going on for a long time,” Phillips said.

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
(Photo by Majid Saidi/Getty Images)

Iranian outreach in Latin America appears to have picked up momentum again in recent years, most recently when a mysterious Venezuelan-flagged plane appeared in Argentina last month. The plane, owned by an Iranian operator under US sanctions, landed in Ezeiza with a crew of 14 Venezuelans and five Iranians, one of whom was a senior Iranian official.

The plane has since been hijacked and an investigation launched, according to a Wall Street Journal report, but why exactly it was allowed to land in Argentina and what it did there remains a mystery.

The Argentine Federal Police searched the aircraft and found materials on board used for military cyber defense operations, with the aircraft’s captain reportedly being Gholamreza Ghasemi, a board member and manager of Fars Air Qeshm, a US-sanctioned Iranian airline.

Argentine President Alberto Fernandez insisted there was nothing suspicious on the plane, while the country’s security minister said the captain only happened to share the same name as Gasemi, a claim denied by Paraguayan intelligence and questioned by Argentine members of Congress.

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While Iran has a long history of partnership with Venezuela, a country that has always sought to undermine American interests, Iran’s cooperation with a democratic Argentina could be a more worrisome development for the US in the region.

A week before the plane landed in Ezeiza, Iran and Argentina applied to join the BRICS group, which is made up of five emerging economies that include Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The group, which has held annual summits since 2009, has significant influence in world affairs as an alternative to US-dominated Western alliances.

An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman told Reuters that BRICS membership would bring additional benefits to both sides. Russia boasted that the US has failed to reduce its international influence amid the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Iranian influence in South America it would be beneficial for Russia, which, under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, has set itself the goal of undermining US influence in the region.

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“Moscow is deepening ties with other authoritarian regimes in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua as part of a long-term strategy to establish a permanent presence in the region,” said Rebecca Koffler, president of Doctrine & Strategy Consulting, a former DIA intelligence officer. and author of “Putin’s Book: Russia’s Secret Plan to Defeat America,” Fox News told Fox News.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (center) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) greet each other, while Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (right) during a meeting in Tehran, Iran.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (center) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) greet each other, while Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (right) during a meeting in Tehran, Iran.
(Office of the Supreme Leader of Iran via AP)

Koffler said Russia’s goal is not only to gain access to new markets and resources as much of the world tries to isolate the country, but to demonstrate to the US that it can operate militarily in America’s backyard.

“Ultimately, Russia wants to build a powerful position of power on America’s doorstep as a deterrent that Moscow can activate if Washington interferes with Putin’s plans to regain control of Russia’s former Soviet republics like Ukraine,” Koffler said. .

The mysterious plane in Argentina is not the only hint that Iran is seeking to strengthen its influence in Latin America. Earlier this year, Iranian Vice President for Economic Affairs Mohsen Rezaee was an invited guest at the inauguration ceremony for Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. Rezai, a former member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, is wanted in Argentina for the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires.

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Ortega has long been a controversial leader and has been accused by international observers of authoritarian politics. During his time in office, Nicaragua was subject to numerous US sanctions, while the State Department criticized his support for “radical regimes” in Cuba and Iran, as well as his repeated attempts to undermine capitalism and US interests.

There is also evidence that Iran has extended its influence as far north as Mexico. Hezbollah, which is designated as terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union and receiving military training, arms and financial support from Iran, has been entrenched in Latin America for much of the past decade, and most recently has invaded drug cartels in Mexico.

Last month, the Justice Department announced that the US had extradited Adalberto Fructuoso Comparán-Rodriguez, the former mayor of Aguilla in Mexico and the alleged leader of the United Cartels in Michoacán, Mexico, on charges of drug trafficking.

In Cali, Colombia, Comparan-Rodriguez allegedly met with a drug dealer believed to be linked to Hezbollah. Comparan-Rodriguez and his partner told the trafficker they could supply hundreds of kilos of methamphetamine, eventually agreeing to send 500 kilos of methamphetamine from Mexico to Texas, from where they were then transported to Miami.

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Law enforcement The agencies were able to seize the drugs before they hit the streets after Comparan Rodriguez was arrested by Guatemalan authorities, but the case showed Hezbollah’s growing influence in Latin America.

Hezbollah has a long documented history of operations along the three borders between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, and most recently expanded its presence to Venezuela. In 2019, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that the terrorist organization now has “active cells” in Venezuela that pose a threat to US security.

“People don’t realize that Hezbollah has active cells – the Iranians are influencing the people of Venezuela and all of South America.” he said at the time. “We have an obligation to reduce this risk to America.”

However, the current administration is approaching the Iranian threat differently, abandoning the Trump administration’s maximum pressure policy in favor of trying to revive the Obama-era Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal.

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Phillips said the new approach was a mistake, arguing that the Biden administration has calmed down on Iran in an attempt to salvage part of former President Obama’s legacy.

President Biden.

President Biden.
(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

“The Biden administration has painted itself into a corner over sanctions on Iran,” Phillips said. “They grossly underestimated the leverage it would take to get another nuclear deal out of Iran…they missed the pedal on the maximum pressure sanctions strategy that the Trump administration has adopted.”

Less leverage has only spurred on Iran, which, in addition to its activities in Latin America, has stepped up its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.

“Iran is on the cusp of acquiring nuclear weapons,” Phillips said. “They already have enough enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb in a few weeks.”

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Phillips believes that sanctions alone are not the solution, instead arguing that the administration needs to demonstrate a credible threat of military force to contain Iran’s growing ambitions.

“Sanctions alone will not stop Iran’s nuclear program any more than they stopped North Korea’s,” he said. “What will deter Iran is the credible threat of an effective use of force.”