The Logic of Iran’s Global Terror Strategy

December 9, 2019 | Yossi Kuperwasser
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During the past few weeks, the Islamic Republic has brutally tried to crush mass demonstrations throughout its borders. In an in-depth study of Tehran’s strategies and tactics, Yossi Kuperwasser argues that such domestic repression is part of the same comprehensive strategy that includes its support for militias, guerrillas, and terrorist groups in the Middle East and further afield, as well as its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Each of these endeavors, writes Kuperwasser, serves the ayatollahs’ “aims of spreading Islam and reducing the influence of Western states.” The tactics vary:

Iran practices asymmetric warfare because, although it is far too weak militarily to defeat the United States, it can still have a significant impact upon America and its allies [while simultaneously] influencing other countries and exacting from the United States a high price for interfering in the pursuit of its goals. Undoubtedly, the most obvious example of this is Iran’s nuclear-weapons program; not only does it negate the disparity in military strength between Iran and the world’s primary superpower, it has also enabled Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s regime to strengthen its domestic position with the lifting of sanctions [following the 2015 nuclear deal].

Iran is [also] able to pose a more direct threat through its sponsorship of terrorism. This sponsorship has expanded significantly over time and involves proxies within the Middle East, as well as worldwide sleeper cells.

Tehran’s network stretches far beyond such groups as Islamic Jihad in Gaza and Hizballah in Lebanon, to include both terrorist sleeper cells and lucrative criminal activity in Latin America:

[Some Iranian] sleeper cells [not only threaten] U.S. allies and trading partners but have [also] moved into organized crime to fund themselves, to undermine further the countries in which they operate, and to gain recruits for their operations. The most notable example of this is in Brazil, in which [Iranian agents’] large-scale weapons smuggling has benefited local gangs and cartels. This, along with the recruitment, brainwashing, and training of local youths through “cultural” centers and Shiite mosques have provided Iran with a high number of armed and ideologically-driven youth, . . . ready to attack [targets in the U.S. and abroad] in the event of war with the United States.

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