Protect America, Paying Attention to Threats in Our Back Yard

During the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, America faced the possibility of missiles in our backyard. Based on a report by the  Center for Security Policy and other agencies, it is apparent we may be facing this and other festering security problems again soon. The report: “Taking Iran’s missiles in Venezuela seriously,” warns that Iran is planning to place medium range missiles on the soil of its staunch South American ally. It also corresponds with an article published last October by the German daily Die Welt which said that the two countries had signed an agreement regarding the missiles. While so much attention is being given to the ‘Arab Spring’ by the media, the Iran-Venezuela axis is receiving little attention, especially its effect in undermining regional security.

It is reported that this agreement was signed during a visit by Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez to Tehran on October 19, 2010. Some of the previously undisclosed terms reveal that this agreement will allow a joint military base to be built on Venezuela’s Paraguana Peninsula and manned by both Iran Revolutionary Guard Corp and Venezuelan military. In addition, not only would the missiles be used in Iran’s interests but Venezuela was also given permission to use it for ‘ emergency’ or ‘national needs’ such as a threat to it’s neighbor and American ally, Columbia.

 Last February engineers from Khatam al-Anbia, a firm operated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard visited Venezuela to inspect the site and the building of missile silos. Intelligence reports indicate that the head of the Revolutionary Guard Amir Al-Hadschisadeh was also present in addition to experts from the chemical engineering department of the Polytechnic and Sharif Universities of Tehran.

Iran’s relationship with Venezuela has allowed Iran to circumvent UN sanctions meant to prevent it from gaining weapons and materials. According to the Russian press agency Novosti, when Russia could not sell the $800 million worth of arms including  S-300SMU-1 missiles to Iran due to UN sanctions, it sought a new customer which turned out to be Venezuela. These missiles have the range to hit major cities on the US east coast. Hugo Chavez has already spent billions on purchasing Russian arms and in 2009 said that Venezuela and Iran were working to build a “nuclear village”. The cooperation between Venezuela and Iran regarding weapons development itself violates sanctions against Iran approved by the UN Security Council.

Visits by Iranian officials to Caracas are possibly facilitated by the on and off again mysterious flights between Iran and Venezuela via Damascus highlighted in my previous article – ‘The Iran-Venezuela Threat While we Debate Border Security, and Our Vulnerability to Worse than 9-11.’ The article highlighted a number of sources and articles from different experts who have followed the developments and promote awareness about the Iran-Venezuela axis.

These include   Peter Brookes, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation  and a former secretary of defense who also served in the Navy, with the CIA and on capitol Hill, who voiced his concerns in an article about Ahmadinejad and Chavez’s nuclear and terrorist ties. Mr. Brookes expressed concerns about the regular flight linking Tehran, Damascus and Caracas. The inspection of customs and materials or immigration processing of travelers between Tehran and Caracas is highly questionable.   In an article in Armed Forces Journal he  outlined that not only could Tehran, which is successfully enriching uranium to low levels, help Caracas with a nuclear program that Moscow starts, it could also help begin in Venezuela it self. Chavez has actually suggested this publicly.  On 9/11/2009 during Chavez’s eight trip to Iran he called the country a strategic ally for helping Venezuela develop its own nuclear program. In November of 2008 and in the middle of a crushing financial crisis, Chavez ordered his treasury to channel $50 million towards a secret nuclear program.

The threat in America’s backyard from the Iran-Venezuela axis is two fold. Not only is placing missiles a concern but also Iran’s long relationship with terror groups who have shown interest in our porus southern border. The Canadian uranium exploration U308 Corp has recorded a substantial source of uranium in the Roraima basin which along the border of Venezuela and Guyana. Containers have been seized on their way to Venezuela with nitrates and sulfate chemicals that are used to manufacture explosives. Other suspicious activities have included joint ventures totaling at least $30 billion between the two countries that can be used as a front to conceal multimillion transactions. This alliance provides the Iranian regime with a reliable source of uranium helps it evade restrictions on trade and financing and gives Middle Eastern terrorists access to weapons from Mr. Chavez’s growing arsenal. This alliance not only serves  as insurance policy for Iran to cancel out meaningful sanctions from the West, it also dangerously gives Iran or Islamic radicals the stage to retaliate or attack the U.S. It would not be difficult to enter from our insecure borders.

It is more troubling as the Iranian relationship has helped boost Venezuelan support  of Middle Eastern radicals. Over 500 tons of weapons have been seized en route from Venezuela to Syria ultimately bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon. Chavez support for Colombian terrorists and his complicity in drug trafficking is unsettling especially when the prospect of his support with traffickers on our border is a possibility. Mr. Chavez is a self-declared enemy of the United States who has aided terrorist groups and radical regimes for more than a decade and is obsessive to hold on to power and exert his influence in the region. Apart from the missile agreement, Iran and Venezuela have committed to memorandum of understanding committing full military support and understanding.  With Iranian personnel reported to be embedded with the Venezuelan military, some members of Congress have supported a resolution calling on the State Department to add Venezuela to the list of State sponsor of terrorism due to its involvement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia a.k.a FARC. Unfortunately there are more reasons Venezuela should be added to the list.

Chavez has longed been accused of accommodating FARC  in Venezuela and ignoring their drug trafficking activities en route to countries such as the U.S. However, the association with the Iran backed terrorist group Hezbollah in the region and the support they might be getting from Chavez has escalated the danger of this axis. Hezbollah it has been reported has been penetrating into large immigrant communities in Venezuela and other countries in South America even learning Spanish fluently. Some reports indicate that Hezbollah operatives make use of the Caracas-Damascus-Tehran flights, are processed on arrival separately and do not go through normal immigration or customs procedures in Caracas.

Apart from a few people like Peter Brookes and organizations such as The Heritage Foundation, The Wall Street Journal and Fox News, very few in media are drawing attention to the possible terrorism web involving Iran, Venezuela and Hezbollah,   especially how it is tied to border security.  However, terrorism analyst Brigitte Gabriel at  ACT for America has also sought to reinforce the dangers we face. She has written about the alliance between drug cartels and groups who seek to smuggle terrorists through the Mexican border. The problem is not only on the Venezuela-Colombia border anymore but literally in our back yard. Mrs. Gabriel made an observation about a denotation of an Improvised Explosive Device IED along the Texas-Mexico Border last year. It was similar to the ones killing our solders in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are largely sourced from Iran. This occurrence strongly indicates that Hezbollah is already working with drug cartels. Also, last year a worker at the Mexican Embassy in Beirut was caught selling visas to enter Mexico. Furthermore, intelligence analysts believe that terrorist groups like al Qaeda have been collaborating with these gangs such as the ruthless MS-13 to smuggle terrorists in America. It is suggested that al Qaeda is paying up to $50,000 to smuggle in a single terrorist and Hezbollah funded by Iran paying up to $10,000. The alliance between the cartels and the terrorist groups allows the cartels to learn expertise in making tunnels to smuggle drugs and also learn bomb making skills from Hezbollah, who in turn smuggles terrorists and weapons to be possibly be used in America. Last Thanksgiving, a 2,200-foot cross border tunnel was discovered in San Diego, complete with lighting and ventilation and a rail system. It had design elements synonymous with Hezbollah type tunnels. Hezbollah it is important to remember, is Iran’s proxy army trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, the same folks ‘setting up shop’ in Venezuela. Not only has Hezbollah been tied to Iran but a Saif al-Adel who found refuge in Iran after being expelled from Afghanistan by U.S forces and has been named as a possible replacement for Bin Laden.  

In addition, should America and Iran have a confrontation, Iran is increasingly gaining the ability to have operatives who are smuggled through our borders to retaliate and probably cause much more terror than 9/11. Intelligence analysts believe there is at least 11 Hezbollah cells in the United States. Iran knows that it cannot compete with the U.S with conventional military means but has the unconventional means to enable terrorists to severely damage this country. Our biggest treat from Iran or the terrorists it is aligned with might not only be a missile but also a nuclear, biological or dirty bomb denoted in a large city such as New York, D.C, Chicago or L.A.

The growing allegiance between Venezuela and Iran has grown from highly suspicious to actively confrontational. It is serving as a catalyst for instability in the region and direct threat to the homeland. After 9/11, Americans were in shock as to how this event could have happened and by such simple means by a shadow group of terrorists. Now we are faced with the combination of a shadow group such as Hezbollah supported by a nuclear seeking axis in our back yard. It seems we have forgotten how a patient enemy can use our simple vulnerabilities to severely harm us.

It is imperative for the Obama administration to take Iran’s interest and Venezuela’s willingness to accommodate missiles aimed at the U.S seriously and should actively seek to deter any further development. The consequences of dealing with a nuclear Iran especially after missiles of any kind  are placed in our region, will be far greater than actions to deter these ambitions before it is too late.  As the Heritage Foundation’s film ( 33 Minutes- Protecting America in a New Missile Age) illustrates, it only takes about 33 minutes for a missile launched from Iran or North Korea to reach the U.S. From Venezuela, it could take much less. Heritage has been very active raising awareness about the missile defense through thorough expert research and reports. Its website states, “The threat from long-range nuclear missiles is growing and endangers the lives of millions of Americans, while upsetting regional and global stability. America needs a comprehensive ballistic missile defense system that employs a multilayered defense system of sea, ground, and space-based systems.”

Also imperative is border security, which was mocked by President Obama recently during his campaign speech where he implied that enough was being done and that those who want more may want to get a ‘moat with alligators’. While there is no one solution for a securing the almost 2000 mile border, there is a need for real leadership on the issue. One opportunity is by leading on a combined federal and state effort to secure the border such as having each of the four states with input from towns along the southern border submit proposals which uniquely fit their local challenges. Unique proposals for unique challenges might even encourage innovation from private companies who would be encouraged to compete to solve those local border issues. For example the Department of Homeland Security DHS after cancelling a virtual border fence costing billions has investing millions to adapt a Predator UAV for border surveillance. However, a retired U.S army officer developed a low tech alternative called Sentinel. It is commercially produced, powered glider with advanced sensors which could perform missions at a fraction of the costs of a Predator. Sentinel believes that ten of these gliders could provide stealthy surveillance of the entire border for about $10 million versus $200 million for 23 predators. The DHS won’t even consider this idea.

Border security is no matter for political correctness football or just an issue to talk about during campaign without credible actions. It is matter of life and death and there are an abundance of terrorists who will use it as a means to seek the latter for many Americans.



Related Links and Research on National Security by The Heritage Foundation:

Protect America Month ( May 2011) – Videos of speeches by experts on National Security Issues.

Ballistic Missiles – The Heritage Foundation Recommends

Morning Bell – Time for America to get Cyber-Serious