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After Soleimani's killing, Iran fear-mongers are on overdrive

Because the terrorists-in-the-backyard hype is so useful in justifying global US militarisation, logic or facts are not a prerequisite
Iranian mourners gather for the funeral of slain top general Qassem Soleimani in Kerman on 7 January (AFP)

Pretend, for a moment, that you’re Wall Street Journal columnist and editorial board member Mary Anastasia O’Grady. Now pretend that the United States has just bombed, say, Havana. 

Your column on the episode might go something like this: “Though it should have thanked Donald Trump for the favour, the tyrannical, despotic Cuban regime once again displayed its hatred of democracy by condemning the bombing of Cuba’s capital city. 

“Democrats in the US were quick to show their communist colours by opposing the strike, which was also denounced by Hamas in Gaza and assorted Islamic State cells. Iranian proxies in 194 countries threatened retaliation on behalf of the Cuban-Venezuelan-Islamic-narco-jihad terror network. A highly knowledgeable intelligence source, meanwhile, told me that natives of the Pacific Island of Bora Bora were seen waving flags of Fidel Castro and Hassan Nasrallah and distributing cookies in the shape of Ayatollah Khomeini.”

Smoking guns?

To be sure, O’Grady has rarely met a right-wing pro-imperialist zealot that she didn’t like. Anyone not fully meeting those qualifications is generally assigned to the category of enemy conspirator. 

O’Grady’s January article on Trump’s assassination-by-drone strike of Qassem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, did not disappoint. Headlined “Soleimani’s Latin America Terror”, the article asserts that Trump “did Latin America a big favour” by eliminating the Iranian “hero of hemispheric criminality”. As proof of his criminal heroism, “Cuba’s military dictatorship quickly condemned the U.S. action”.

Indeed, I'm currently in San Salvador and can confirm that it's practically impossible to take a step without tripping over an Iranian proxy network

Never mind that said US action was, you know, illegal and a war crime.

Naturally, the Cuban reaction was not the only smoking gun. O’Grady goes on to report that Soleimani was also “mourned by the drug-trafficking terrorist group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia” as well as officials from the “Venezuelan dictatorship, and Iranian proxy networks in Brazil, Peru, Argentina, El Salvador and Mexico”. 

Indeed, I’m currently in San Salvador and can confirm that it’s practically impossible to take a step without tripping over an Iranian proxy network. Everyone here knows that the real goal of the notorious MS-13 gang (created, incidentally, by none other than the US) is to impose an Islamic Republic of El Salvador.

Hallucinatory propaganda

And that’s not all: A “reliable intelligence source” has informed O’Grady that Iran “has been getting closer to Mexico” - which “fits the Soleimani pattern and is something to worry about”.

Far more worrisome for those of us concerned with reality, however, is that O’Grady is hardly the only character trafficking in hallucinatory Iran-in-America’s-backyard propaganda - although her institutionalisation at one of the top US newspapers does tend to endow her with greater clout than some of her fear-mongering comrades-in-arms.

The right-wing narrative goes something like this: Iran and its star “proxy”, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, have spent the past few decades setting up shop in Latin America, opening embassies and cultural centres as a facade for terrorist activity and forging links with every possible criminal enterprise and left-wing outfit in the region.

Supporters of Lebanon’s Hezbollah wave the group’s flag in Bint Jbeil on 16 August (AFP)
Supporters of Lebanon’s Hezbollah wave the group’s flag in Bint Jbeil on 16 August (AFP)

In 1994, the duo is said to have carried out the horrific attack on the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people - an allegation that has through sheer repetition entered into the realm of accepted fact, despite being exposed in 2008 as a “frame-up”.

The AMIA and other nefarious plots, so the story continues, were cooked up in the “lawless” and oh-so-scary tri-border area between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. Never mind that, when I spoke in 2013 with Jose Almada - a superior officer in the Paraguayan special forces unit created expressly to investigate such accusations - he told me that no evidence of area terrorist cells had as of yet turned up.

This was not, he stressed, for lack of effort and encouragement on the part of visiting US intelligence agents.

Colossal case of projection

Over at the Small Wars Journal, an essay on “Iran’s strategic penetration of Latin America” explores how the region has witnessed the Islamic Republic’s pursuit of “its classic rampant penetration of other nations’ governments and cultural institutions”. No matter that this happens to be an exact description of the US modus operandi - including, ahem, in a certain 1953 CIA-orchestrated coup against Iran’s Mohammad Mosaddegh.

Dragging Latin America into the US-Iran proxy war
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Call it a colossal case of projection. Ditto for the whole “state sponsor of terrorism” designation that the US delights in wielding against Iran - but that is far more fitting a label for the state that has conducted mass slaughter from Vietnam, to Panama, to Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond.

Mosaddegh’s great crime, of course, was his conviction that Iranian oil belonged to Iran. The oil issue is addressed with utmost creativity by the Small Wars Journal authors, who suggest Latin American implications of a remark by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1978: “As long as the criminal hands of the oil-hungry superpowers are at work in our country, the gates of happiness and freedom will remain closed to us.” 

Somehow, Khomeini’s words are taken to indicate that not only does Iran want to spark “revolution” in Latin America - it also wants to “destabilize the region, subjugate all the Latin American nations, and create a crisis that will be perceived as a threat to the national security of the United States.”

Indeed, because the terrorists-in-the-backyard hype is so useful in justifying global US militarisation schemes and persecution of Iran, logic and coherence are never really a prerequisite. 

Cross-hemispheric penetration

Other gems regularly trotted out as proof of Iranian hemispheric “penetration” include the fact that it is possible to travel by air from Caracas to Tehran with minimal difficulty - as can generally be said, in this modern era, for any two geographical points on earth.

If that weren’t enough, Mexican drug cartels have “enlisted the help of Hezbollah” in cross-border narco-tunnel construction, because “the terrain along the southern U.S. border, especially around San Diego, is similar to that on the Lebanese-Israeli border”.

Plus, imprisoned gang members in the US are sporting Farsi tattoos - which, as US Representative Sue Myrick explained back in 2010, “implies a Persian influence that can likely be traced back to Iran and its proxy army, Hezbollah”.

As the US continues to kill - and to enable other killers, from Israel to Saudi Arabia - it's safe to surmise that impunity will end when pigs fly

Now, in the aftermath of the Soleimani assassination, the usual suspects have more material to work with - and no apparent regard for the fact that the killing was itself an act of cross-hemispheric penetration.

An intervention at The Hill by one Eric R Mandel poses the question: “Is South America where Iran will avenge Soleimani’s assassination?” It goes on to posit that the “spy and terrorist network throughout Latin America could be used for Iranian terror theatrics”.

Frighteningly, the terror theatrics may not be confined to the region: “Even if it is only initiated in South America, it could surface and explode anywhere in the Western or Eastern hemisphere.”

More frightening, perhaps, is that Mandel’s bio lists him as “brief[ing] members of Congress and their foreign policy aides on the geo-politics of the Middle East”.

Dramatic pronouncement

Speaking of theatrics, a short video accompanying O’Grady’s Wall Street Journal dispatch - titled “Latin America Should Thank Trump for Taking Out Soleimani” - ends on a dramatic pronouncement by Nathan Sales, the coordinator for counterterrorism at the US State Department: “Impunity must end.”

This is the same Sales, of course, who once argued in utter seriousness that Hezbollah presides over a pig farm in Liberia.

Meanwhile, as the US continues to kill - and to enable other killers, from Israel to Saudi Arabia - it’s safe to surmise that impunity will end when pigs fly.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Belen Fernandez
Belen Fernandez is the author of Exile: Rejecting America and Finding the World and The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin magazine.