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America needs to stop Iranian-controlled militias in our hemisphere

America needs to stop Iranian-controlled militias in our hemisphere
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Iranian-controlled Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) are coming to the Western Hemisphere. According to Radio Farda, Iranian military commander Yahya Rahim Safavi, the former head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, is helping Venezuela to form PMUs and transferring Iran’s experience to Venezuela to stand “against America.” In 2014, the Wall Street Journal’s  Mary Anastasia O’Grady reported that the “West underestimates the growing threat from radical Islam (Iran) in the Americas,” through an Iran-Cuba-Venezuela nexus, with the help of regional allies Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador. 

PMUs are multinational Islamist militias under the control of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which have helped Iran project its power and influence beyond its borders and to dominate Iraq. They have helped Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to remain in power. Iran and its terrorist proxy Hezbollah, the model Iranian militia, have had decades-long involvement in finding the soft underbelly of the United States’s South American neighbors through narco-terrorism and support of anti-U.S. regimes. 

According to Ambassador Nathan Sales, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, “Hezbollah continues to have our hemisphere squarely in its sights today.” For decades, Iran and Hezbollah have used Latin America to transit drugs and support their terrorist activities. These activities have contributed to the U.S. opioid epidemic but have been off the radar of most Americans, who think Iran and its proxies’ nefarious activities are confined to the Middle East. 

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Iran has nurtured and supported like-minded revolutionary regimes, including Venezuela, and has a long history of terrorist activity in South America going back to its bombing of the Israeli embassy and Jewish center in Argentina in the early 1990s. A nuclear Iran will feel even more emboldened to act in Central and South America, which is another reason for the United States not to allow Iran to develop an industrial-size nuclear weapons program. 

If Iran is now trying to create real militias in South America, as it has in the Middle East, this would be another escalation in its war against America — this time in our own backyard. Iran has used Hezbollah, especially since 9/11, to recruit and train terror cells in South America, but militias are different and, over time, would add to their terrorist armamentarium. Iran also has used nations such as Venezuela to help it bypass American sanctions, receiving gold shipments in exchange for Iranian gasoline shipments, such as arrived in Caracas in late September. 

Dr. Emanuele Ottolenghi, senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, testified before Congress in 2016 on sanctions and illicit finance. He has warned: “Drug trafficking, trade-based money laundering, and terror financing in Latin America have merged as a single threat to the national security of the United States. … Hezbollah plays a central role in this new landscape. … Tehran leverages connections with anti-American regimes and movements to gain a foothold in the region, and to indoctrinate local Muslims in its brand of revolutionary Islam.” In Venezuela alone, there are about 200,000 Lebanese Shiite expatriates, fertile ground for Iranian recruitment.  

PMUs in the Middle East target American soldiers in Iraq; support the Syrian government’s genocide of its civilians; attack American allies such as the Iraqi Kurds; prevent the Iraqi government from trying to remove the tentacles of Iranian dominance; and now may be on their way to set up bases in our hemisphere. The idea of PMUs in our backyard should be of great concern to U.S. national security experts. 

Last year, the Organization of American States’ (OAS) secretary general, Luis Almagro, said that “Iran and Hezbollah have a solid base of operations in South America in alliance with the narco-dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro. … If we fail to reign in Iran and Hezbollah in Venezuela, it will represent a victory for terrorism, transnational organized crime, and anti-Semitism.”  

Iran is a revolutionary Islamist regime that will not stop trying to probe any area of weakness to undermine American national security interests. Although we have no appetite for overseas adventures, economic sanctions may not be enough over time to stop Iran — especially if the next U.S. administration follows former Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerrySeinfeld's Jason Alexander compares Trump dance video to iconic Elaine dance This time, for Democrats, Catholics matter President's job approval is surest sign Trump will lose reelection MORE, who declared the death of the Monroe doctrine in 2013. The United States does need the resolve to develop and enforce a modern-day Monroe doctrine, and must not allow a foreign enemy nation such as Iran to radicalize the Western Hemisphere and flood the Americas with terrorism.

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides on the geo-politics of the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter @MepinOrg.