Merchant of Death
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Venezuela and Iran: Going to the Next Level
The recent unclassified Pentagon assessment of Iran's military power released last month to Congress shows official reporting is finally catching up to reality on the ground in regard to Iran's Latin American activities. The increase comes at a time of deep economic troubles for the Chávez government in Venezuela, as noted by the Hudson Institute's Jaime Daremblum.

It is also only the most public looks at how Venezuela and Iran are enhancing their military partnerships, particularly in field of asymmetrical warfare where both states are hoping to use their non-state proxies to take on the "Empire," meaning the United States. For a range of views on this, see my chapter and others in Woodrow Wilson Center publication Iran in Latin America: Threat or Axis of Annoyance?

The assessment contains several interesting nuggets, including that Iran's highest priority is the survival of the regime, and hence its fixation with asymmetrical warfare and its outreach to groups that oppose U.S. interests. This includes the Boliviarian states of Latin America. (For those who read Spanish, I have an article in the most recent Poder magazine on some of these issues). The DOD assessment does not discuss Iran's blossoming financial network across the region.

Some of the key findings that relate to Latin America and Iran's MO in the region:

Diplomacy, economic leverage, soft power and active sponsorship of terrorist and paramilitary groups are tools Iran uses to drive its aggressive foreign policy. In particular, it uses terrorism to pressure or intimidate other countries and more broadly to leverage its strategic deterrent.

The Iran regime uses the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps - Qods Force (IRGC-QF) to clandestinely exert military, political, and economic power to advance Iranian national interests abroad. The IRGC-QF global activities include: gathering tactical intelligence; conducting covert diplomacy; providing training, arms and financial support to surrogate groups and terrorist organizations; and facilitating some of Iran's provision of humanitarian and economic support to Islamic causes.

Support for extremists takes the form of providing arms, funding and paramilitary training. In this, IRGC-QF is not constrained by ideology; many of the groups it supports do not share, and sometimes openly oppose, Iranian revolutionary principles but Iran supports them because they share common interests or enemies.

Yes, all of this is to lay the groundwork for understanding Iran's relationship to Chávez and other Bolivarians, because there is little else in common between Socialism for the 21st Century and a reactionary Islamist theocracy.

IRGC-QF maintains operational capabilities around the world. It is well established in the Middle East and North Africa, and recent years have witnessed an increased presence in Latin America, particularly Venezuela. If U.S. involvement in conflicts in these regions deepens, contact with IRGC-QF, directly or through extremist groups it supports, will be more frequent and consequential.

That is the scenario we are facing in Latin America. And it is a dangerous and unpleasant picture.
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