Casey Presides Over Hearing on Iran’s Support for Terrorism in the Middle East

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs, presided over a Subcommittee hearing on Iran’s support for terrorism in the Middle East.

Witnesses included:

  • The Honorable James F. Jeffrey, Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Alexandria, VA
  • Dr. Daniel Byman, Senior Fellow and Director of Research, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution, Washington, DC
  • Ms. Danielle Pletka, Vice President, Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute, Washington, DC
  • Dr. Matthew Levitt, Senior Fellow and Director, Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Washington, DC

Senator Casey’s opening remarks as prepared for delivery are below:



July 25, 2012

Today the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs meets to examine the grave implications of Iran’s support for terrorism and militant movements in the Middle East. Iran's support for terrorism is a well-known and established fact. Iran provides political and material support to militant movements like Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and directly conducts terrorist acts throughout the Middle East to advance its interests.  Over the past year alone, there appears to have been a sharp spike in Iranian-sponsored terrorism around the world.  The international community has been clear in its resolve against Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon.  We must however also unite in opposition to Iranian use of terrorism, an effort that will require heightened intelligence cooperation with countries around the globe and an enhanced effort to discredit the Iranian Qods Force and its patrons.   

The committee today meets to examine three fundamental questions:

  1. How does Iran’s use of terrorism directly impact the national security of the United States and our allies in the region including Israel?
  1. What have the historic political changes in the region, and ongoing violence in the Middle East meant for Iran’s position in the region and its use of terrorism to project force?
  1. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, if Iran were to develop a nuclear weapons capability, how would this impact its behavior and relationships with terrorist organizations?

Since its founding in 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran has sought to compensate for its conventional disadvantage by resorting to the use of terrorism and support for terrorist groups.  I would like to focus on three areas where this support has been most acute and done the most damage: Hezbollah, Iraqi Shia militant groups, and the Assad regime in Syria.

The prime beneficiary of Iran's support for terror has been Lebanese Hezbollah.  During my time on this committee, I have sought to bring sustained attention to this relationship and what it means for U.S. interests.  In June 2010, I chaired a hearing in which Former Assistant Secretary Jeffrey Feltman and Ambassador Daniel Benjamin noted in joint testimony that:

“In 2008 alone, Iran provided hundreds of millions of dollars to Hizballah and

trained thousands of Hizballah fighters at camps in Iran. Iran continues to assist

Hizballah in rearming, violating Security Council resolution 1701. Iran also has

been found to be in violation of UNSCR 1747, which prohibits it from exporting

arms and related materiel. In 2009, UN member states reported to the UN’s Iran

Sanctions Committee three instances in which Iran was found to be transferring

arms or related materiel to Syria, a regional hub for Iranian support to terrorist

groups, such as Hizballah.”

This threat came into sharp relief last week in Bulgaria where five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver were murdered in a cowardly act of terrorism.  My heart goes out to the victims’ families, and to all of Israel as they mourn this loss. We will assist Bulgaria and Israel in any way we can to help bring those responsible to justice. Without objection, I would like to submit a statement for the record on behalf of Chairman Kerry which expresses some of the same sentiments.

The authorities are continuing their investigation, but Israeli officials have publicly accused Hezbollah of conducting the attack.  This is the latest, and most deadly, of a string of attempted attacks allegedly perpetrated by Hezbollah and Iran. Although Iran and Hezbollah have not been definitively linked to all of these attacks, many are pointing to this string of plots as an escalation in Iran’s terrorist activities abroad and its growing antagonism toward Israel. 

The U.S. does not differentiate between Hezbollah’s political and militant wings.  Nor should our allies.  More countries should recognize Hezbollah for what it is – a terrorist organization -- and stand with the U.S. against Hezbollah in all its forms.  Over the past year, I have grown increasingly concerned about Hezbollah’s increased level of terror activity abroad, while it has consolidated its political position at home.  I hope that more of our allies will recognize this reality and work to address this threat.

In Iraq, Iran has provided Iraqi Shia militants and terrorists with funding, weapons, training, and guidance, in order to protect Iran’s strategic interests and threaten the remaining U.S. presence in Iraq.  We can never forget scores of U.S. troops who died in Iraq because of Iranian supported militant groups.  The United States should continue to support the Iraqi government as it resists undue influence from Iran and fights terrorism within its borders.

Syria remains Iran’s key ally in the region.  Iran continues to support the Assad regime despite the terrible violence it is inflicting on the Syrian people. We know that Iran has sent weapons and equipment to bolster the regime; several shipments were intercepted in 2011. The Qods Force is reportedly advising Syrian security forces on tactics to crush the unrest. In response, the Treasury Department sanctioned the Qods Force for human rights abuses in Syria, including commander Brig. Gen. Qasem Soleimani and Mohsen Chizari.  Tehran has few friends around the world.  I called for Assad to step down last August, in part, because it would deprive Iran of a longtime partner in repression and make it more difficult for Tehran to project force across the Middle East.  For the sake of the Syrian people and Iran’s position in the region, the international community should maintain pressure on the Assad regime for a political transition as soon as possible. 

Finally, this committee must examine the relative influence of Iran amid the political changes that have swept the region since the beginning of 2011.  Iran has clearly grown more aggressive as it lashes out against Israel and U.S. interests.  But what is not clear is Iran’s ability to influence countries in the region that have increasingly rejected Iran’s form of authoritarian government and use of violence.  I look forward to hearing from our witnesses how Iran will seek to exert influence in this increasingly uncertain regional environment.

In closing, we are all very concerned about a nuclear Iran.  If past behavior is any indication, a nuclear Iran would act more aggressively to exert its influence in the Middle East. Even if it did not ever use an atom bomb, a nuclear Iran would feel empowered to conduct more terrorist attacks against U.S. and Israeli targets, provide more lethal assistance to Hezbollah and Palestinian militant groups, and give the Qods  Force greater liberty to support terrorist groups across the Middle East.  I look forward to hearing the views of the panelists on these issues and on how the U.S. and our allies can better confront Iranian terrorism.

We are honored to be joined by four distinguished experts to help us assess these issues and evaluate policy options. First, we welcome Ambassador Jim Jeffrey, who recently retired from the Department of State after a long career of public service. Ambassador Jeffrey served as U.S. Ambassador to Turkey and most recently as Ambassador to Iraq until June of this year.

Second, Dr. Matthew Levitt is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, as well as a lecturer at Johns Hopkins University’s Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. From 2005 to early 2007, he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.  Dr. Levitt is the author of the forthcoming book Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon's Party of God.

Third, we welcome Dr. Daniel Byman, Senior Fellow and Director of Research for the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, as well as Professor and Director for the Center for Peace and Security Studies and the Security Studies Program at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown.

Finally, we welcome Ms. Danielle Pletka, Vice President for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute and expert on the region’s complex politics. Ms. Pletka is a former staff member on the Foreign Relations Committee and testified at our 2010 hearing on Hezbollah.  Welcome back.  We thank our witnesses and look forward to their insights.