Two separate reports released by the Argentine prosecutor in the 1994 AMIA bombing case and the U.S. State Department this week are the latest indication that Iran’s global terror network is on the rise, experts say.
The State Department’s 2012 country reports on terrorism, released on Thursday, found that last year was "notable in demonstrating a marked resurgence of Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism," through the Iranian regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), its intelligence ministry, and its terrorist group proxy Hezbollah.
Iran has also attempted to build up its network of spies and terrorist sleeper cells throughout South America, according to a 500-page indictment released by Argentine attorney Alberto Nisman, the general prosecutor on the AMIA bombing case.
The 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires was the deadliest terrorist attack in Argentina’s history, resulting in the death of 85 and injuring hundreds more. Federal prosecutors say the attack was plotted by Iranian government officials and carried out by Hezbollah.
Iran experts say these reports show that Tehran is making a concerted effort to expand its global influence.
"American officials who describe Iran as a ‘regional power' are living in the past," said Michael Rubin, a resident expert on Iran and terrorism at the American Enterprise Institute. "Iranians describe themselves as a ‘pan-regional power' and, however ridiculous it may sound to us, hope to become a global power."
Foundation for Defense of Democracies senior fellow Emanuele Ottolenghi noted that Iran has devoted significant time and expense to developing relationships with South American countries, but benefits very little in terms of trade.
"If you look at the trade balance between Iran and Latin America you discover that there is virtually no trade going on between Iran and the ALBA countries — that is the countries where Iran has invested the most politically and economically," Ottolenghi said. "Most of the trade is between Iran and Brazil (first partner) and Iran and Argentina (second partner). Even in those two cases, the balance of trade is bizarrely tilted in favor of Brazil and Argentina."
The Iranian espionage and terror-network activities outlined in the AMIA indictment could be the reason Tehran has worked to grow its presence in South America.
"What are the Iranians doing there, since years and billions later they are getting no trade out of the relation? The answer is that they seek a gateway and a friendly environment to expand their influence, conduct operations, etc.," Ottolenghi said.
Nisman’s indictment placed Mohsen Rabbani, the former cultural attaché for the Iranian embassy in Buenos Aires, at the center of Iran’s South American terror network.
Rabbani had previously been tied to the AMIA bombing, but Nisman’s indictment also makes the case that he was Iran’s point man as the regime attempted to infiltrate multiple South American countries.
Eight current or former Iranian senior officials are wanted by Interpol in connection with the bombing, including two candidates in the upcoming presidential election. The suspects remain at large and there have been no convictions in Argentina.
"At the very least, the Iranians have shown with the AMIA bombing, that they have global reach," Rubin said. "The fact that those involved in that terrorist attack have reached the highest level of government says a lot about the direction in which Iran might head."
Argentine President Cristina Kirchner’s leftist administration announced in January that it would form a joint "truth commission" with the Iranian regime to get to the bottom of the AMIA bombing. The commission would be composed of jurists appointed by both countries and tasked with investigating the bombing and reaching a resolution.
The initiative was met with sharp criticism from the Israeli government and the Anti-Defamation League. The U.S. State Department initially appeared open to the idea, but later expressed skepticism that the effort would lead to a just resolution, the Washington Free Beacon reported at the time.
Rubin said there is a reason why a state sponsor of Islamist terror such as Iran would seek out allies in left-leaning South American countries.
"There's a dangerous confluence between the left and Islamism," Rubin said. "Too often, anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism are the ties that bind, something Iran exploits every single day."