The Iran/Hezbollah Strategic And Terrorist Threat To Africa
By Ely Karmon
Special to InHomelandSecurity.com
Since President Ahmadinejad’s inauguration in 2005, Iran’s foreign policy focus has shifted from Africa to Latin America in order, as he put it, to “counter lasso” the U.S.. This change accelerated after Ahmadinejad’s 2007 visits to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia and the International Conference on Latin America held in Tehran in February 2007, where Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mehdi Mostafavi, announced the opening of embassies in Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Uruguay and a representative office in Bolivia. This strategy seemed to be driven by the opportunity President Chavez gave Iran to build an anti-American axis with Venezuela and its “Bolivarian” allies in the backyard of the United States.
However, Iran did not abandon its “great power” ambition to enhance its presence and influence in Africa, in the backyard of Western Europe, possibly to balance the growing European pressure on its nuclear program.
According to an analysis by The Economist, while Iran has exploited anti-American sentiment in Latin American countries such as Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela, “in Africa it has concentrated on strengthening Muslim allegiances with offers of oil and aid.” In 2009, some 20 ministerial or grander visits to Africa by Iran’s diplomats, generals and president led to the signing of “a bewildering array of commercial, diplomatic and defence deals.”
Addressing a group of Iranian ambassadors to African countries in December 2011, Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian underlined that Iran attaches major significance to the expansion of ties with all African nations “in the strategic continent and in Muslim states in particular.” He emphasized that the promotion of ties with African states is a major priority for Iran’s President Ahmadinejad, who has agreed to provide African nations with essential resources to facilitate their development and progress. Amir-Abdollahian called on the Iranian ambassadors to speed up the implementation of ongoing Iranian cultural, economic and commercial projects based in Africa. Earlier in June, in a meeting with former Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare, President Ahmadinejad expressed Tehran’s readiness to launch a joint fund with Africa.
In January 2012 Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi underlined that bolstering ties with African countries is a top priority of the Islamic Republic’s foreign policy on the background of the pressures imposed by the West to undermine Iran’s progress.
The reasons behind Iran’s activity on the African continent are to be found in attempts by the international community to isolate it. Iran has moved to find access to African markets to which it can export oil and other goods, and from which it can import strategic resources.
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About the Author
Dr. Karmon is a Senior Research Scholar at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, Israel, and a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at IDC. He lectures on Terrorism and Guerrilla in Modern Times at The Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, at the IDF Military College, and at the National Security Seminar of the Galilee College.