Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

Iran’s Support for Terrorism in the Middle East

Introduction:

Chairman Kerry, Ranking Member Lugar, members of this distinguished Committee, and Committee staff, thank you for the opportunity to testify today.

Iran has long been one of the most important and dangerous sponsors of terrorism in the world. Although the Islamic Republic’s motivations have varied over the years, its leaders have consistently viewed ties to and support for a range of terrorist groups as an important instrument of national power. Disturbingly, Iran’s support for terrorism has become more aggressive in recent years, motivated by a mix of fear and opportunism. Iran could become even more aggressive in the years to come, exploiting the perceived protection it would gain if it developed a nuclear weapon or, if thwarted through military force or other means, using terrorists to vent its anger and take revenge. However, under current circumstances Tehran still remains unlikely to carry out the most extreme forms of terrorism, such as a mass-casualty attack similar to 9/11 or a strike involving a chemical, biological, or nuclear weapon.

The United States should work with its allies to continue and expand an aggressive intelligence campaign to thwart Iran and its terrorist surrogates. After 9/11, the United States engaged in a comprehensive campaign against al-Qa’ida: a similar global approach is needed to combat Iranian-backed terrorism. However, as the United States is already exerting tremendous pressure on Tehran via sanctions and diplomatic isolation because of Iran’s nuclear program, there are few arrows left in America’s quiver and thus the United States will find it hard to place additional pressure on Iran due to terrorism.

In this statement I first lay out Iran’s motivations for supporting an array of terrorist groups. I then offer explanations for how, and why, Iran is becoming more aggressive in its use of terrorism in response to a rapidly changing region. I then detail the dilemma regarding terrorism and Iran’s nuclear program: allowing Iran to get the bomb is dangerous in and of itself and may make Tehran more aggressive in supporting terrorists, but a military strike to destroy the program is likely to lead Iran to use terrorism to take revenge. I conclude by presenting implications and recommendations for U.S. policy.

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