By William Tucker
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Just over one month ago, two Iranian-Americans were charged with espionage after they were discovered conducting surveillance on Israeli and Jewish facilities in the United States.
According to a criminal complaint, California residents Ahmadreza Mohammadi-Doostdar and Majid Ghorbani were “allegedly acting on behalf of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran by conducting covert surveillance of Israeli and Jewish facilities in the United States, and collecting identifying information about American citizens and U.S. nationals who are members of Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK).” MEK is an Iranian dissident group that has long sought regime change in Tehran.
Not the First Time Iranian Intelligence Has Conducted Surveillance in the US
This is not the first time that Iranian intelligence has conducted surveillance in the U.S. for the likely purpose of supporting terrorist-style attacks against Tehran’s foes. Last month, the Washington Free Beacon ran an article that quoted U.S. Congressman Peter Roskam (R-IL) as claiming the arrests were “just the tip of the iceberg.”
Iran and its proxy Lebanese Hezbollah have plotted to attack American and Jewish targets in the past, but they have also targeted Saudi interests. In addition, there have been operations by Iranian and Hezbollah agents to collect intelligence or purchase U.S. military assets that are typically prohibited from export to Iran.
For Iran and Hezbollah, these operations are quite familiar. From the 1994 bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) Jewish Center in Buenos Aires to the 2011 attempted assassination of the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., Iran has not been shy about using terror tactics to further its national interests.
Attacking Dissidents Is Primary Focus of Iranian Intelligence
For the most part, however, Iranian intelligence has typically focused on protecting the revolutionary regime. As a result, the targeting of dissidents at home or abroad occupies the bulk of Tehran’s attention.
In the early days of the revolution, the new Iranian regime sent its agents abroad to assassinate dissidents or expatriates who were considered an ideological threat. Many Iranians who were loyal to the Shah or who preferred democracy were gunned down worldwide over the course of 15 years. Iran ended this assassination spree in the mid-1990s, but there is evidence that the regime is once again targeting its foes abroad.
Iran under Pressure due to Failing Economy and Military’s Over-extension in Syria and Iraq
The Iranian government is under immense pressure from its rapidly deteriorating economic situation and the over-extension of the military in Syria and Iraq. Considering this situation, the arrests of Iranian assets in the U.S. is ominous.
The U.S. has taken action against Iran by withdrawing from the nuclear deal and re-imposing sanctions, but these actions only serve to exacerbate an already bad political situation. Nevertheless, Tehran fully blames the U.S. for its problems and these recent arrests serve to demonstrate that Iran does have levers around the world that can exact revenge if necessary.
It is certainly a good sign that the U.S. has been able to disrupt these Iranian intelligence plots. But if Iran is as desperate as it appears to be, then we can expect more of the same types of operations in the future.