“Transnational terrorists — Hezbollah, Hamas — have organizations resident in the region,” said Gen. Douglas M. Fraser, commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), in an address at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I stay focused on it just because I’m paid to be skeptical. What we see right now is support — financial support — to parent organizations in the Middle East.”
“I don’t see any ops,” the SOUTHCOM commander qualified. “I don’t see anything like that. It still remains an issue and a concern for the supply they are doing. But on a skeptical basis, because of the amount of illicit trafficking that happens throughout the region — the ability to move people, goods, capability across the border of the United States — makes it a concern that I will continue to monitor.”
Gen. Fraser also spoke to the increased presence of Iran in the region. In recent years, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has cemented alliances with anti-American states in the region — most notably Venezuela — as well as, of late, Brazil. Last month, the continent’s most populous state joined Turkey in casting the only votes against new sanctions on Iran in the U.N. Security Council.
“From an Iranian standpoint, they are increasing their presence in the number of embassies that they have within the region,” Gen. Fraser said. “They’ve gone from seven. I think they’ll open their twelfth embassy this year. My concern there is just their traditional support to Hamas and Hezbollah and whether or not that then has an impact in Latin America and the Carribean. I have not seen that connection right now. So I see primarily diplomatic and commercial activity. I don’t see anything beyond that.”
Iran and Hezbollah do have an unsavory history in the region. In 2006, Argentine prosecutors charged the Iranian government and Hezbollah with orchestrating the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 and injured hundreds.