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Iran Activity in South America of Great Concern, General Says

The U.S. military is watching closely for an uptick in Iranian activities in central and South America after Iran-backed terrorists attacked Israel Saturday, sparking heated rhetoric from Tehran and its proxies that have operations in the Western Hemisphere, a U.S. general said Wednesday.

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Iran’s supreme leader has praised Hamas for carrying out a massive attack on Israel and is known to provide weapons and funding in support of Hamas activities, as well as the larger organization, Hezbollah, in Lebanon that has also clashed with Tel Aviv since the attacks. U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHOM) is concerned about escalating Iranian and Iran-backed activity in its area of responsibility generated by the instability, SOUTHCOM Commander Gen. Laura Richardson said at a think tank event.

“We’re watching very, very closely. In terms of working with our partner nations, obviously, they’re concerned too,” Richardson said.

“In terms of indicators and things like that right now as a result, immediate results of the attacks that have taken place, I think we’ve seen the condemnations that have come from the region regarding the attacks. We will continue to be very poised and watching the environment very, very closely,” she added.

Hezbollah operates a global illicit finance network with operations in South America, according to a map compiled by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The U.S. has sanctioned Hezbollah operatives and associates based in South America for participating in illegal fundraising to help carry out terrorist attacks, The Associated Press reported.

Hezbollah, meanwhile, receives hundreds of millions in direct funding and weapons from Iran each year according to U.S. estimates, Reuters reported.

Hezbollah said it targeted areas of Israel “in solidarity” with the people of Gaza on Sunday, according to Reuters. Israel retaliated with strikes killing at least three Hezbollah members, AFP reported, but so far the intensity of hostilities has not reached the level of that between Israel and Hamas.

If Hezbollah were to launch a ground invasion of Israel, however, the situation could escalate dramatically. Hezbollah receives funding from Iran orders of magnitude greater than Hamas, boasting a massive arsenal and perhaps 100,00o fighters, according to Reuters.

Richardson said she and democratic partners in South America are closely watching Iran-backed activities in South America. She did not directly respond to a question about a change in migration patterns that may include refugees fleeing from regions across the globe, like the Palestinian territories, but said the countries are sharing information.

Hezbollah is thought to participate in drug smuggling operations, particularly cocaine, according to the Washington Institute.

Richardson noted that SOUTHCOM only has about 17% of the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance resources it needs to detect and monitor drug cartels before handing responsibility for interdiction to the Coast Guard and local forces.

“With the resources we have, we utilize those very, very specifically and to the best of our ability… Can we can we do more if we had additional resources? Yes, we could do more.”

“The analysis that we’ve done is we’re able to get after, with the resources we have, 10% of what we know is cocaine flow, which is the problem here — not fentanyl yet,,” Richardson said.

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