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Iran is the patron - spiritually and financially - for most of the region's Islamic militants. It is the Iranian model of revolution, its institution of Islamic law and its anti-Western philosophy that characterize the rhetoric of many extremist groups. And it is Iranian money that often pays for the weapons, training and literature that are the backbone of Islamic extremist violence.
The United States designated Iran as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1984. According to the State Department's 2011 report on terrorism, "Iran was known to use the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF) and terrorist insurgent groups to implement its foreign policy goals, provide cover for intelligence operations, and support terrorist and militant groups."
In October 2005, a senior Palestinian intelligence official revealed that Iran promised a reward of $10,000 to Islamic Jihad if it launched rockets from the West Bank toward Tel Aviv. Iran also transferred money from Iran to Syria, from where Islamic Jihad's head of overseas operations forwards it to the West Bank (Sunday Times, October 30, 2005).
Tehran has been linked to numerous anti-West and anti-Israel terrorist attacks, ranging from taking hostages and hijacking airliners to carrying out assassinations and bombings. Some of these incidents include the taking of more than 30 Western hostages in Lebanon from 1984 through 1992, the 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in which 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days, the bombings of the U.S. Embassy and the French-U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, the 1992 terrorist attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and on the Argentine Jewish communal building in 1994.
More recently, Iran has been increasingly active in attacking Americans. Iran provided weapons, training, funding, and guidance to Iraqi Shia militants as well as Iraqi troops and civilians targeting U.S. forces. Iran has also been supplying weapons and training to the Taliban in Afghanistan and providing transit and temporary safe haven to members of al-Qaida, including senior leaders Yasin al-Suri, Saif al-Adel and Abu Muhammad al-Masri.
In 2011, the United States discovered that Iran conceived and funded a plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to the United States in Washington D.C. "The thwarted plot," the State Department reported, "underscored anew Iran's interest in using international terrorism - including in the United States - to further its foreign policy goals."
Moreover, Iranian agents have acted to perpetrate terrorist attacks in more than 20 countries around the world since 2010. Iran has been implicated in the July 2012 bombing in Bulgaria that killed 5 Israelis, the February 2012 attacks on Israeli representatives in Georgia and India, as well as the failed strikes in Thailand and Azerbaijan against Jewish targets. Israel's Mossad security service also noted that Iran was behind foiled plots to attack Jewish and Israeli targets in Kenya and Cyprus as well.
Deadly terror weapons have also been smuggled into the hands of Iranian-sponsored groups such as Hezbollah and used against Israeli civilians in commando-style raids. New rockets were delivered to Hezbollah by Iran and may be used to bombard northern Israel. Hezbollah fighters have also been trained in Iranian camps. Rearming Hezbollah after the 2006 Lebanon War is a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701. Iran spent approximately $1 billion to rebuild southern Lebanon, and, according to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, exponentially increased Hezbollah's rocket arsenal to as many as 60,000 rockets (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2008).
Israeli intelligence believes that the Quds Force and Hezbollah have divided responsibilities, with the former focused on official Israeli officials and institutions, such as ambassadors and embassies, while the latter attacks soft targets, such as Israeli tourists (IPT News, April 30, 2013).
In March 2007, the chief of the Shin Bet reported that Hamas had sent dozens of men from Gaza to Iran for military training (New York Times, March 6, 2007). During the conflict with Israel that led to Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, Hamas fired Iranian-supplied Fajr-5 rockets at Tel Aviv and after a ceasefire was declared Gazans publicly thanked Iran for its support.
Khaled Meshal, head of the Political Bureau of Hamas, said Hamas will maintain its close and strong relations with Iran and Hezbollah despite tensions over Iranian claims to be calling the shots in Gaza. High-ranking Iranian officials claim Hamas continues to answer to Tehran, and that even if Hamas's political leaders refused to obey orders from Tehran, Hamas's military echelon would continue to follow Iranian instructions. The statements followed the release of satellite images showing that Iran was rushing to rearm Hamas following Operation Pillar of Defense (Jerusalem Post, November 25, 2012).
In October 2013, a court in Azerbaijan sentenced an alleged Iranian spy, Bahram Feyzi, to 15 years in jail for allegedly plotting an attack on the Israeli embassy in the country. According to court documents, Feyzi - who was also found guilty of espionage and drug possession - was accused of being an agent of the secret service of neighbouring Iran. (Daily Star Lebanon, October 11, 2013)
A report published by the Telegraph newspaper on April 4, 2015, detailed that Iran had been funneling millions of dollars to Hamas to help them rebuild their network of terror tunnels that were destroyed during Operation Protective Edge. The Iranian funding also assisted Hamas in replenishing their missile stockpiles. (The Telegraph, April 4, 2015)
A confidential United Nations report released in April 2015 provided evidence supporting the fact that Iran had been sending weapons and supplies to Houthi rebels in Yemen as early as 2009.
Perhaps the most serious terrorist threat from Iran would arise if it succeeds in developing nuclear weapons. A nuclear Iran may decide to transfer nuclear materials to either homegrown or foreign terrorists to threaten countries in the Middle East and beyond.