How Drugs and Crime Bolster Iran Financially While Aiding Its Malign Activities

September 20, 2022 | Omer Dostri
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In June and July, Turkey arrested three terrorist cells linked to Tehran that were planning attacks on Israelis. If the Turkish press is to be believed, these would-be assassins were affiliated with Iranian organized-crime networks operating in the country—which, according to Omer Dostri, would not be surprising given the Islamic Republic’s record. Dostri explains how Iran utilizes ties with cartels and drug dealers—which stretch from using Hizballah to launder money for cocaine syndicates in South America to working with heroin kingpins in Afghanistan—to accomplish its goals.

Iran benefits in several ways from its engagement in criminal activity and drug trafficking. First, it makes money, especially since Iran is subject to economic sanctions that force the regime to look to illicit revenue streams. These payments are also sent to Hizballah in Lebanon, Kataib Hizballah in Iraq, and Ansar Allah (the Houthis) in Yemen, among others.

Second, Iran’s drug-trade-and-distribution efforts aim to poison the populations of Western countries, mainly the United States, where most of the trade is focused. According to Iran, which officially opposes drug usage for religious reasons, drug distribution in these countries will damage their society, create economic hardship, increase welfare costs, and diminish national resilience.

Thirdly, Iran uses international crime not just as a way to make money but also as an endless resource for using criminal organizations to support terrorism and even buy material for its nuclear program.

In the past, Israel, the EU, and the U.S. have at times cooperated in opposing such activities, but Dostri is skeptical about these efforts:

Such global cooperation will be complicated now, as the Biden administration follows the Obama administration’s course of action to get Iran back into the nuclear accord in exchange for several significant concessions. In this political climate, Israel will find it difficult to persuade the U.S. administration to undertake coordinated and large-scale operations against criminal organizations affiliated with Iran—a move that could endanger discussions for a renewed agreement. As a result, it is conceivable to offer the Americans a form of compromise in which Israel and the U.S. will focus on prosecuting Hizballah members involved in narcoterrorism while turning a blind eye to such activity affiliated [directly] with Iran.

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