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US General: Biden Sanctions Relief for Iran Will Aid Iranian Assassination Plots

New nuclear deal will strengthen Iran's terror network in Middle East, Africa, exclusive testimony says

Houthi fighters / Getty Images
• September 21, 2022 2:20 pm

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Iran will use cash assets provided by the Biden administration as part of a new nuclear accord to fund regional terror groups and enhance the capabilities of a militant network committed to assassinating U.S. officials, according to written testimony to Congress from a top U.S. military commander exclusively obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Gen. Stephen Townsend, who led U.S. Africa Command until August of this year, in March warned Congress that Iran is certain to use "at least some of the resources gained from sanctions relief to" increase its illicit shipment of advanced weapons to terror groups operating in Africa and the Near East region, according to written information he provided to Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) after a public hearing before Congress.

In addition to boosting Iran's terror allies like the Houthi rebels in Yemen, sanctions relief will enable Tehran to expand its Iranian Threat Network, a group of terror cells run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps's Quds Force that is focused on assassinating American officials, according to Townsend.

With a new Iran nuclear deal expected to provide Iran with up to a trillion dollars over the lifetime of the deal, a coalition of Republican lawmakers on Wednesday introduced new legislation that would bar the Biden administration from implementing the accord until it can certify to Congress that Iran has not engaged in assassination plots on Americans in five years. The bill, which is sponsored by Ernst and Rep. Michael Waltz (R., Fla.), was sparked by Iran's ongoing efforts to assassinate former U.S. officials like former national security adviser John Bolton and former secretary of state Mike Pompeo.

The disclosures made by Townsend in his communications to Congress are likely to generate further support for the legislation even among Democrats, some of whom recently wrote to President Joe Biden expressing concern about the impending deal.

"It's hard to fathom that, after countless attacks on Americans, and multiple confirmed plots against U.S. officials, the Biden administration continues to cozy up to Iran in hopes of a mythical, so-called nuclear deal," Ernst said in a statement. "President Biden should not provide a dime of sanctions relief to the largest state sponsor of terrorism, which is actively trying to kill U.S. officials and citizens, at home and abroad."

Townsend, who testified before Congress in mid-March, confirmed that sanctions relief provided under a revamped version of the 2015 nuclear deal will directly fund Iranian-backed terrorist organizations. His analysis was provided in a written form to Ernst after she posed a series of additional questions following that briefing.

"If the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is renewed, Iran will likely use at least some of the resources gained from sanctions relief to intensify the pursuit of its interests in Africa," Townsend said. "Tehran likely will allocate additional revenue to boost lethal aid facilitation to the [Houthis] in Yemen through smuggling routes and East Africa, and could further develop Iranian Threat Network (ITN) capabilities on the continent."

Once Iran's regime has access to hard currency freed up under the deal, it "will likely seek opportunities to exploit regional conflicts and the counterterrorism needs of African governments to increase arms sales, enhance defense cooperation, and to undermine Western and Israeli partnerships and ambitions on the continent," Townsend said. "Though these efforts are nascent, a growing Iranian presence also would provide increased cover for the ITN facilitation network and operational expansion."

Since late 2020, at least 10 Iranian assassination plots orchestrated in the region by the ITN have been disrupted, according to Townsend, including two against U.S. officials in Africa. Other plots targeted Israeli interests.

"Iran almost certainly continues to seek retaliation for the death of former IRGC-QF commander Qassem Soleimani, and it could leverage the ITN to attack high-level U.S. government or military officials visiting or staying in Africa, especially if Iran suspects them of complicity in Soleimani's death," Townsend said.

The Iranian Threat Network, he added, "has increased its activity and remained intent on expanding its capabilities in Africa, most likely through proxies and recruited agents," according to Townsend. The IRGC's Quds Force "also leverages East African smuggling networks to resupply the [Houthis] in Yemen with lethal aid."

The Houthis are now armed with several weapons systems, including ballistic and cruise missiles, that can reach a U.S. military base in Djibouti, according to Townsend. While the Houthis have not fired on the base due to fears about a U.S. response, this situation could change in the future.

"If the [Houthis'] calculus were to change, such as during a potential future conflict between the U.S. and Iran, U.S. forces in East Africa would be under threat from an Iranian ally who could attack with little to no warning," Townsend said.

Ernst's bill seeks to prevent Iran from using cash it gets from the nuclear deal to fund these assassination plots. The legislation would effectively stop the administration from waiving sanctions until the State Department "can certify no assassination attempts or bounties are placed on current or former senior government officials for five years," according to the bill.