- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 5, 2015

Iran has been sending billions of dollars to fill the pockets of terrorist fighters across the Middle East, including in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, according to a private U.S. government report ordered by Sen. Mark Kirk. 

Iran’s defense budget ranges anywhere between $14 billion to $30 billion a year and much of that money goes to fund terrorist groups and rebel fighters throughout the region, according to the Congressional Research Service report conducted at the request of Mr. Kirk, an Illinois Republican. 

The report, first viewed by The Washington Free Beacon, discloses that funding for these terrorist groups could be much higher than originally estimated, as Iran often hides public records about its defense spending. 

“Some regional experts claim that Iran’s defense budget excludes much of its spending on intelligence activities and support of foreign non-state actors,” the report states, stressing that actual military spending could far exceed the $30 billion that Iran discloses annually, The Free Beacon reported. 

“Similarly, another study claims that actual funding for the [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Force’s Al Quds Force] is ‘much greater’ ” than the amount allocated in the state budget, as the group’s funds are supplemented by its own economic activities,” the report said.

The report gives “low-ball” estimates for each of the groups supported by Iranian funding. Researchers estimate Iran spends between $100 million and $200 million per year on Hezbollah, $3.5 billion to $15 billion per year in support of Syria’s Asad Regime, $12 million to $26 million per year on Shiite militias in Syria and Iraq, $10 million to $20 million per year to support Houthi rebels in Yemen and tens of millions per year to support Hamas terrorists in Israel. 

In Syria, for example, Iranian-backed fighters are paid between $500 to $1,000 a month to fight in support of Bashar Assad’s regime, according to the report. 

Afghan fighters in Syria have disclosed that they “had recently returned from training in Iran and planned to fight in Syria,” the report notes. These militants “expected to receive salaries from Iran ranging from $500 to $1000 a month.”

The report comes as the Obama administration gained the final critical vote needed to suppress a resolution to disapprove a nuclear deal with Iran. Under the deal, the U.S. and other world powers will gradually lift economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic in exchange for dismantling its nuclear weapons program. 

Similar reports from watchdog groups have revealed that releasing Iranian assets sanctions could allow Tehran to spend more money on its terrorist-link Quds force, as well as beef up its own military in general. 

“The administration is celebrating support from a partisan minority of senators for a nuclear deal that threatens the security of the United States and our allies,” Mr. Kirk said, The Free Beacon reported. “This deeply flawed agreement will transfer over $100 billion to a regime that U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper calls the ‘foremost state sponsor of terrorism,’ and pave Iran’s path to nuclear weapons.

“Like North Korea before it, Iran will cheat on this flawed deal in order to get nuclear weapons. Congress must hold accountable the Iranian regime and ensure that our children never wake up to a nuclear-armed Iran in the Middle East.”

• Kellan Howell can be reached at khowell@washingtontimes.com.

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