Iran Has Spent More Than $16 Billion on Terrorism in Recent Years

Windfalls from Obama nuclear deal have lined militant regime's pockets

Brian Hook
Brian Hook / Getty Images
September 24, 2019

Iran has spent more than $16 billion during the past several years to fund militant terrorists across the Middle East, cash that was repatriated to the Islamic Republic under the terms of the landmark nuclear deal, according to new disclosures from the Trump administration.

As Iran's economy teeters on the brink of collapse under the tough sanctions regime imposed by the Trump administration, the Islamic Republic's authoritarian leadership has spent its limited cash reserves to bolster terror groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as militant terrorists in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.

The Trump administration is taking a range of steps to thwart what it describes as Iran's expansionist foreign policy that seeks to establish hardline governments across the region.

"Our pressure is making the regime's extremist foreign policy and the ideology that drives it more expensive than ever before," Brian Hook, the administration's special representative for Iran told the Asia Society on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, or UNGA, which is being held this week in New York City. "This was long overdue."

Hook, in one of the first public accounts of Iran's expenditures on terrorism since it entered the nuclear deal, conservatively estimated that Tehran has spent at least $16 billion to support regional terror organizations. The nuclear deal inked with the Obama administration was estimated to provide Iran with as much as $100 billion in cash windfalls. This is in addition to $1.7 billion in hard currency that was given to Iran as part of an Obama-era prisoner swap with Tehran.

Hook's estimate also does not include the many billions Iran spends each year to bolster its internal defenses and ongoing research into ballistic missiles and nuclear-capable technology.

"The regime has spent at least $16 billion supporting proxies in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen over the last several years," according to Hook. Additionally, "it has spent hundreds of millions on the Houthis," the Tehran-backed rebel force operating in Yemen. The Houthis have been identified as carrying out multiple cross-border terror strikes on Iran's behalf in recent months.

Iran has also provided Hezbollah, the Lebanese terror group backed by Tehran, "almost $700 million annually and gave more than $100 million a year to Palestinian terrorist groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad," Hook disclosed.

"Our maximum pressure campaign is reducing this cash flow and depriving the regime of billions in revenue," Hook said. "Our oil sanctions alone are denying the regime up to $50 billion. Iran's proxies, including Hezbollah, are already complaining of a lack of funding. As our pressure continues, it will become harder for Iran's proxies to get by. We call on all nations to join us in this effort. It is the right and responsible thing to do, morally and strategically."

Hook also took a shot at the United Nations, which he and other Trump administration officials have repeatedly accused of turning a blind eye to Iran's increasingly bold attacks in the region. This includes the downing of an American drone, as well as direct and indirect attacks on U.S. coalition forces stationed in the region.

"After 40 years of trying and falling short, what has been the international community's response to Iran's continued malign behavior?" Hook asked. "It has been to temper its expectations, narrow the scope of its demands, and ultimately play by Iran's rules."

"The Iran nuclear deal very much reflected this calculus," he said. "This failed approach has only fueled the regime's expansion across the region, a story one hears repeatedly from countries in the Middle East."

"The Trump administration," Hook vowed, "is challenging this status quo. We are rejecting the defeatist mentality that has creeped into the world's approach to Iran and tilted the balance in its favor."

Hook also provided further information on the recent Iran-backed attack on Saudi Arabian oil infrastructure. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was among the first senior diplomats to acknowledge Iran's role in the attack with the E3—comprised of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom—following suit on Monday.

"We know based on intelligence and open-source analysis that these attacks were conducted by Iran," Hook said. "We are confident in this assessment. The evidence, including the complexity, scope, and impact of the attack, indicates this is the case."

"Yet Iran, from its president on down, has maintained that the Houthis are responsible," Hook said. "Let me be clear: The attacks were more complex, larger in scale, and more precise than anything the Houthis are capable of executing. Accepting the Iranian version of events undermines international security and conveniently demands nothing of nations in response."

Published under: Iran