Iran, Terrorism, and Weapons of Mass Destruction

Daniel L. Byman
Daniel L. Byman
Daniel L. Byman Director and Professor, Security Studies Program - Georgetown University, Nonresident Senior Fellow - Foreign Policy, Center for Middle East Policy

September 8, 2005

Chairman Linder, Members of the Committee, and Committee staff, I am grateful for this opportunity to speak before you today.

I am speaking today as a Professor in the Georgetown University Security Studies Program and as a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings’ Saban Center for Middle East Policy. My remarks are solely my own opinion: they do not reflect my past work for the intelligence community, the 9/11 Commission, the U.S. Congress, or other branches of the U.S. government.

Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran has been one of the world’s most active sponsors of terrorism. Tehran has armed, trained, financed, inspired, organized, and otherwise supported dozens of violent groups over the years. Iran has backed not only groups in its Persian Gulf neighborhood, but also terrorists and radicals in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Bosnia, the Philippines, and elsewhere.1 This support remains strong even today. It comes as no surprise then, twenty five years after the revolution, the U.S. State Department still considers Iran “the most active state sponsor of terrorism.”2

Yet despite Iran’s very real support for terrorism today, I contend that it is not likely to transfer chemical, biological, nuclear, or radiological weapons to terrorists for three major reasons. First, providing terrorists with such unconventional weapons offers Iran few tactical advantages as these groups are able to operate effectively with existing methods and weapons. Second, Iran has become more cautious in its backing of terrorists in recent years. And third, it is highly aware that any major escalation in its support for terrorism would incur U.S. wrath and international opprobrium.

In my prepared statement, I begin by reviewing how Iran has used terrorism in the past and how this has changed over the years. I then assess U.S. attempts to press Iran with regard to terrorism and why they have met with little success. I conclude by arguing that, while I believe Iranian terrorism remains a threat, Tehran is not likely to pass chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons to terrorists.