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US: Iran’s sponsorship of global terror is ‘undiminished’

Annual report, released as nuclear deal deadline looms, highlights Revolutionary Guards as primary terror mechanism; hails Abbas for reducing incitement

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Iran's leaders attend a 2013 ceremony marking the anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Khomeini at his shrine just outside Tehran (AP Photo/Office of the Supreme Leader)
Iran's leaders attend a 2013 ceremony marking the anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Khomeini at his shrine just outside Tehran (AP Photo/Office of the Supreme Leader)

WASHINGTON — Less than two weeks before the deadline for a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran, the US State Department’s annual report on terror activity noted that Iran’s “state sponsorship of terrorism worldwide remained undiminished.”

The lengthy report, released Friday morning, also discussed Palestinian terrorism and attacks launched by Jewish Israelis against Palestinians and Christian and Muslim houses of worship.

The 388-page report, which warns that terror attacks worldwide rose 35% from 2013 to 2014, describes Iran’s attempts to spread its influence across the globe, using the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force as the “primary mechanism” for accessing terror groups throughout the Middle East, and with ties as far as South America.

“While its main effort focused on supporting goals in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, Iran and its proxies also continued subtle efforts at growing influence elsewhere including in Africa, Asia, and, to a lesser extent, Latin America,” the report warned.

The report detailed Iranian support for Hezbollah and its role in propping up the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, as well as its restated willingness to re-arm Hamas following last summer’s Operation Protective Edge.

A comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran would necessarily entail offering significant sanctions relief to Tehran – and opponents of a deal, notably including Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, warn that the additional funds returning to the Iranian economy will likely enable increasing state sponsorship of terror.

US administration officials have, in recent months, noted Iran’s continued state sponsorship of terror groups as justification for retaining some sanctions against Iran. However last last week, the Associated Press reported that “the Obama administration may have to backtrack on its promise that it will suspend only nuclear-related economic sanctions.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif (right). (photo credit: AFP/Brian Snyder, Pool)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif (right). (photo credit: AFP/Brian Snyder, Pool)

That article noted that 23 out of 24 currently sanctioned Iranian banks will be de-listed, including the government-owned Central Bank of Iran which was designated as a primary money laundering concern because the Iranians use it for financing terrorism, ballistic missile research and campaigns aimed at bolstering the Assad regime in Syria.

The Associated Press article warned that this additional relief would make it “easier for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and its police, intelligence services and paramilitary groups to do business.”

The annual report, compiled by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, counted some 13,500 terror attacks that killed almost 33,000 people in 2014 – a stark rise from the 18,000 deaths from some 10,000 attacks in 2013.

The rise of Boko Haram and the Islamic State and the continuing carnage of the Syrian civil war were among the leading factors in 2014’s grim statistics. According to the data compiled, 78 percent of all terror fatalities occurred in five countries — Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria.

Despite being outside of the ignominious top five, events in Israel and the Palestinian territories also received significant treatment in the annual report.

The report noted that “Israel was a committed counterterrorism partner in 2014,” and listed the terrorist threats against Israel as including Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM) in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria and “other violent extremists, particularly from Gaza but also from the West Bank.”

A priest walks past graffiti reading in Hebrew, "false idols will be eliminated," as he inspects the damage at the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, June 18, 2015. (AFP/Menahem Kahana)
A priest walks past graffiti reading in Hebrew, “false idols will be eliminated,” as he inspects the damage at the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, June 18, 2015. (AFP/Menahem Kahana)

In addition to offering detailed accounts of Israel’s efforts to combat rocket fire and terror tunnel infiltration from the Gaza Strip, the report also mentioned that “attacks by violent extremists – both Israelis against a joint Arab-Israeli school and Palestinian residents, property and places of worship, and Palestinians against Israelis – in Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank continued.”

The authors of the report noted, however, that “Israeli President Reuven Rivlin spoke out against extremist violence and ‘price tag’ attacks (property crimes and violent acts by extremist Jewish individuals and groups in retaliation for activity they deemed to be anti-settlement) on multiple occasions, as did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”

The State Department added that legal cases against violent extremists responsible for price tag attacks “began making their way through the Israeli judicial system, although investigations by the Israeli authorities in the majority of such attacks did not result in prosecutions.”

In the three cases listed in the report as illustrative, charges were brought against the alleged perpetrators, but only one of the three cases has reached the sentencing phase. In that case, three Israelis were indicted for torching two vehicles and vandalizing buildings in the village of Farata. Two of the three were sentenced to 30 months imprisonment, an additional 12-month suspended sentence if they commit a similar offense within three years of release, and NIS 15,000 ($4,000) each in compensatory damages.

The report included incidents of terror and anti-terror activity in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem under a separate category from “Israel.”

It noted that “the Palestinian Authority (PA) continued its counterterrorism efforts in the West Bank where Hamas, PIJ and the PFLP remained present,” adding that Palestinian security forces “constrained those organizations’ ability to conduct attacks.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a meeting with the Revolutionary Council of his ruling Fatah party, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, June 16, 2015. (AFP/ABBAS MOMANI)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a meeting with the Revolutionary Council of his ruling Fatah party, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, June 16, 2015. (AFP/ABBAS MOMANI)

The report lauded Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who it said “consistently reiterated his commitment to nonviolence and recognition of the State of Israel.”

“He condemned acts of violence, including the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in June, and the attacks on civilians at a West Jerusalem synagogue in November in which five people died, including three American citizens,” the report continued.

The State Department report asserted that “the PA has taken significant steps to ensure that official institutions in the West Bank that fall under its control do not create content that leads to incitement to violence.” It cited the Palestinian Broadcasting Company’s code of conduct as stating that no programming is allowed that encourages “violence against any person or institution on the basis of race, religion, political beliefs or sex.”

At the same time, the report noted that “in practice, this code of conduct is not always observed, with some instances of inciting taking place via official media.”

It cited as examples a July 2014 post on one of Fatah’s official Facebook pages that read “Sons of Zion, this is an oath to the Lord of the Heavens: Prepare all the bags you can for your body parts” and the fact that in October 2014 the official Palestinian news agency, WAFA, included on its site Fatah’s call to its “fighters” and Palestinian people to “aid the Al-Aqsa Mosque and occupied Jerusalem.”

The report mentioned the controversial PA practice of paying large sums to Palestinian security prisoners, which Israel says incentivizes terror.

The report did not take a similar view, reading instead that “as part of a policy codified in 2003, the PA provided significant financial packages to Palestinian security prisoners released from Israeli prisons in 2014 in an effort to reintegrate them into society.”

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